Updated: May 15, 2019
How do you find joy in your life?
There are no doubt many ways of finding that out, but I recently became interested in this question after considering the difference between what the German language calls “schadenfreude” and the Buddhists call “mudita” borrowing from an ancient Sanskrit word. Both of these words come at the question of “joy” from rather opposite directions.
The road to joy passing through “schadenfreude” involves seeing our enemies suffer. When they fail, we take pleasure in their hardships. By contrast, the road to joy that passes through “mudita” involves seeing others, including our enemies, succeed in achieving their aims. When they succeed, we succeed in finding a kind of vicarious pleasure, much like parents feel when their children succeed. And so we rejoice with those who rejoice, whether friend or enemy.
Big difference here.
And I wish I could tell you that I’m one who practices “mudita” with the Buddhists or “enemy love” with the Christians. Or could say that I always “rejoice with those who rejoice,” as the first Christian missionary, Paul, put it in Romans 12:15. But, instead, I find a lot of “schadenfreude” tendencies in myself, again going back to that German word for “harm-joy” or “taking pleasure in seeing my enemy lose” rather than win.
I suspect that I’m on the road to joy most heavily trafficked, and that others may join me on this trail. But I’m not sure that makes this the right road where we really want to go in this life. It may be one of those cases where we follow the crowd assuming everyone else must know the right way to get there, wherever “there” really means. For all I know, we may all be lost.
Why would I say lost?
Because I notice that I lose a certain amount of joy each time I see others succeed in life after lying, cheating, stealing or otherwise misbehaving in some way. Which happens a lot, come to think of it. By denying myself any joy at seeing others I don’t even like get what they want in life, it’s as if I’m depriving myself of joy most every day of the week. By feeling bad when my enemy feels good, I end up feeling bad more often than desirable or even necessary. I lose battles I could actually win. If I would instead apply “mudita” and “enemy love” along that road to joy less traveled.
I’m writing to share this insight into my own life’s journey because there is some aspect of faith that comes into play here. And some aspect of good news. And some aspect of salvation for any of us who are lost while following the crowd along the road most traveled through “schadenfreude.” And I think it’s worth sharing with you in case you happen to be on this same road and just as lost as I am.
Jesus, in whom I claim to place my faith for salvation from such “lostness” in this world, makes his own claim that if we follow him in practicing love for enemies, rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn, we will receive the abundant life. Life in the Kingdom of God. Life where instead of playing these zero-sum games of “you must lose so I can win,” we are born again and, by our repentance, turned onto the new road less traveled where positive-sum means win-win cooperation. Not win-lose competition. Not “one of us has to suffer loss and you deserve it more than me.” That’s “schadenfreude.”
If you know anything about how I think, or have my book, “Love’s Resurrection: its power to roll away fear’s heaviest stone,” you note that faith is something I consider a universal human experience. Faith in fear and doubt in love is something each of us is tempted with by the enemy, the lie, that travels with us on our wrong roads in life. We gather a certain amount of joy from being on such a road. We enjoy seeing the bad guys pulled over by the cops. We rejoice with those who mourn at such times. We’d rather see justice for others and mercy for ourselves. That’s also “schadenfreude.” But to place our faith in love and our doubt in fear, we have to keep no record of wrongs and instead gather our joy from seeing the bad guys slowing down in front of us and the cop cars keeping their place in the median.
That’s also faith in love.
That’s the good news of the Kingdom of God which Jesus came to reveal to us. If I will only repent and get on that other road less traveled. The road to joy abundantly.