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Borrowing Joy

If something good happens, but it happens to someone else, is it still good? Of course! No one would argue out loud, but deep down we value our own happiness more than the happiness of others. This is natural, human, and not something to feel bad about.

At the same time, the temptation to prefer our own welfare over that of others needs to be resisted. It isn’t hard to live vicariously through the success and joy of loved ones. Good parents automatically promote their children’s progress at their own expense. It gets a little more challenging in the case of siblings (read: sibling rivalry), and can seem nearly impossible with strangers. How many of us would significantly deny ourselves in order to help a stranger?

I’m talking about more than just sending money or volunteering for a day. How easy would it be to give up something really important that we worked long and hard to achieve, like the chance to buy a house, in order to help the needy? Or would any of us give that same house to a stranger?

I’m not suggesting we should radically change human nature, even if we could. But it’s worth looking at how we automatically devalue someone else’s good fortune in favor of our own. Why? Because if we were to absorb the happiness of others, and feel joy of strangers (or even enemies), we would have a lot more of both happiness and joy!

The next time you see someone who looks thrilled, try to feel their pleasure in your own heart. The next time you see a young couple in love, feel excited for them, and let the giddy swirl of romance elevate your spirits. If someone gets a promotion and you don’t, try to enjoy their success rather than rue your disappointment.

The Buddhists call this mudita, or sympathetic joy. It’s an easy way to feel happy even when your own life isn’t going the way you want. Someone in your sphere is no doubt having luck and happiness, so borrow their pleasure. It will help you, and it will help them when they see that rather than resentment, you feel pleasure at their success. Pleasure is pleasure no matter its source, and borrowing the happiness of others increases everyone’s well being. We are, after all, connected to each other. We can, and should, share joy.

Borrowing Joy

Will Meecham, MD, MA

In late 2014, Will Meecham, MD, MA, launched to combine clear explanations of biology with meditations on Life.

Before he felt ready to start, Will needed to overcome a highly traumatic upbringing. In young adulthood he coped with his past by over-achieving, completing years of higher education in ecology, biophysics, neuroscience, and medicine. But in mid-life, when neck disease ended his career as an oculoplastic surgeon, he was forced to confront vulnerabilities such as low self-esteem, high reactivity, interpersonal conflict, dissociation, and an unstable sense of identity, all of which are common problems for those who suffered hardship early in life.

After years of inner work, he grew more stable, grounded, and secure. Along the way, he discovered that his lifelong love of biology helped him find meaning and purpose in Life. He now works to encourage greater appreciation, gratitude, and compassion for the human body.

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APA Reference
Meecham, W. (2010). Borrowing Joy. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Aug 2010
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