If you could choose only one of these two words to describe yourself, which one would it be? Be honest.

Schadenfreude – taking pleasure in the pain and suffering of others. 

Mudita – taking sympathetic or unselfish joy in the good fortune of others.

I imagine that you, like me, prefer to see yourself as more positive than you probably are. I spent years trying to convince my wife that I was a realist rather than a pessimist (I never even entertained the thought of being an optimist!). Unfortunately our world is full of negativity, and it takes zero effort to find it – social media, news programs, sports talk, relationships, work, school, etc. and it often feels impossible not to be sucked in. Sometimes a deep drink from the cup of negativity seems like the perfect solution when life gets overwhelming (I experimented with that recently and it was a bitter drink)… But, given a choice, I think very few would intentionally choose a life of negativity.

In the world of self-help, this is a choice between the abundant and the scarcity mindset. The abundant life is one spent searching for, and finding, the unlimited good that surrounds us. The life of scarcity finds all that is wrong, the things that are lacking, and the ways that the universe conspires to keep us from obtaining the elusive prize of happiness. As a recovering pessimist I’ve found that the key is making the choice to be happy, the choice to focus on abundance. My wife Hillory developed a class called Deliberately Design Your Life where she teaches the importance of writing what the ideal version of you looks like. Daily I now write, “I live a life of gratitude and abundance.” And it has made a huge difference!

In his book, Think Like a Monk, Jay Shetty states that negativity comes from a real or perceived threat to our three core emotional needs – peace, love, and understanding. When we feel threatened, fear moves us to react – often complaining, comparing, and criticizing. These reactions create the victim mentality – the idea that we are powerless to change our own lives for the better. Unfortunately this mindset is self-reinforcing and also contagious. Bless Hillory for her patience as she’s shared the following advice countless times – we are surrounded in life by events that are positive and negative and you have a choice on where we place your focus.

I think we’re all prone to negativity and I’d encourage you to ask where in your life you might embrace complaining, comparing, and criticizing. It’s so easy to identify a negative person – I’m sure you can list a number of them in your life. The most important question is this, would someone put you on their list? Humans are very good at reading verbal and nonverbal clues. Your attitude affects the people around you. The buddha taught, If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. Jay Shetty followed up with this, “Petty, negative thoughts and words are like mosquitos. Even the smallest one can rob you of your peace.”

As I read through the chapter of the chapter on negativity, I was struck by the discussion of how we see others. It was sobering to ask myself, “schadenfreude or mudita?” Though I regret to admit it, I clearly remember numerous times feeling happy when something bad happened to someone I didn’t like, and even disappointment when they succeeded. Isn’t that sad??? This is the scarcity mindset- that others’ joy and success somehow take away from yours. But this only exists in your mind and in your heart. 

Alternatively I love this thought about mudita from the Buddhist teachings- “There is no limit to your joy when you find joy with others.” It is expansive and light. It lifts everyone. Which is why I wanted to pose the question to you. Do you define yourself in relation to the people around you? If you move outside of your circle of family and close friends, do you find empathy for their struggles and joy in their success.

Daisaku Ikeda said, “It is impossible to build one’s own happiness on the unhappiness of others.” Do you choose Schadenfreude or Mudita? 

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