The third of the Brahmaviharas, or “immeasurables,” after lovingkindness and compassion, is muditā. Muditā is sometimes translated as sympathetic joy, or empathetic joy, or as appreciative joy.
Our old friend, the first century text, the Path to Freedom, describes it like this:
As parents, who, on seeing the happiness of their dear and only child are glad, and say, “sadhu!” so, one develops appreciative joy for all beings. Thus should appreciative joy be known. The undisturbed dwelling of the mind in appreciative joy — this is called the practising of it. Gladness is its salient characteristic. Non-fear is its function. Destruction of dislike is its manifestation. Its benefits are equal to those of loving-kindness.
So again, this quality of appreciation, like lovingkindness and compassion, is something intrinsic to us that needs to be developed and extended, and not some amazing mystical experience that we’re striving to attain some day. We already have experience of muditā! (Sādhu, by the way, means something like “yay” or “alright!” or “great!”)
But this description of seeing happiness and being glad sounds rather like metta, or lovingkindness. Compassion is the desire that beings be free from suffering — so that, at least, is quite clearly different from appreciative joy. Metta is the desire that beings be happy. But what’s the difference between mettā and muditā?
Upatissa, the author of the Path to Freedom, actually is a bit more specific when he explains how to cultivate appreciative joy:
When one sees or hears that some person’s qualities are esteemed by others, and that he is at peace and is joyful, one thinks thus: “sadhu! sadhu! may he continue joyful for a long time!”
So in both examples — “seeing the happiness of their dear and only child” and “seeing and hearing that some person’s qualities are esteemed by others” — we have two things going on:
- The person is already happy. Mettā wishes that beings be happy. Muditā is our response to knowing that beings actually are experiencing happiness.
- Appreciative joy is not just about happiness — it’s about valuing and appreciating the good qualities people have that bring them happiness. So appreciative joy is appreciation. In fact I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t just translate muditā as “appreciation,” and I’ll probably use that term a lot. “Gladness” is a good Anglo-Saxon alternative, but perhaps a bit less precise, since there isn’t much in the word “gladness” that suggests it’s a response to the happiness or meritorious qualities of others.
So there’s more here than just recognizing happiness and being glad that people are happy. We’re recognizing ethically skillful behaviors and character traits, and the peace and joy they bring.
PS. You can see all of the 100 Days of Lovingkindness posts here.