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124. Rejoicement Therapy

According to the Dalai Lama we were born to be happy. The only problem is that our lives are not always especially compatible with happiness, we lose people, have conflicts with them, lose jobs, lose money, get ill, are hurt by people, bossed around by people, and live constantly with uncertainty. What to do? We all know about remembering to be grateful for what we have, working hard and achieving, doing things we enjoy, spending time with people we love..... but there is one potential source that we may be under-utilising, the good fortunes of others. Don't forget, if you or your friends would like to view past tips, you can do so by clicking here. And if you'd like to forward these tips to a colleague or friend just click below.The good fortunes of others may not immediately seem to be a rich source of joy. Unfortunately, much as we'd like to be happy for others when their lives take a turn for the better, often we feel quite the opposite. 'How wonderful,' we say between gritted teeth when our best friend buys a huge house after six months in their fabulous new job, 'I'm so happy for you.' This is what Aristotle had to say on the matter: 'The deeds or possessions which arouse the love of reputation and honour and the desire for fame, and the various gifts of fortune, are almost all subject to envy; and particularly if we desire the thing ourselves, or think we are entitled to it, or if having it puts us a little above others, or not having it a little below them.' He goes on to say that we tend to envy people who have what we think we ought to have, or what we once had. So older people envy the young, people who've paid a lot for something envy those who've paid less, people who don't have something envy those who have it. So rather than fill us with joy, the good things that happen to others often simply serve to remind us of what is less than perfect in our lives, what is less than perfect about us, how little we have compared to others and how unlikely we are to achieve the level of good fortune we are witnessing. And on top of that we have to face the fact that we really are not very nice people. If these sentiments were as present in Aristotle's time as they are now it's not unreasonable to assume that we are talking basic human emotions here. So what is the Dalai Lama going on about? He says, as have many Buddhists before him, that as our lives cannot be relied upon to provide us with good fortune all the time, why not enjoy the good fortune of others? Why would we eschew any possible source of happiness? Immediately I conjure up a picture of a child, maybe around nine or ten, who is at a friend's birthday party, seeing them unwrap the exact same toy that they themselves have been begging their parents for, in vain. No amount of coercion could make that child feel happy for their friend. So if we feel envy at someone else's luck and can't simply change the way we feel because someone tells us to, how can this rejoicement therapy possibly work? We've all experienced envy, it's a human thing, but in fact we often feel joy, too, at others' good fortune. How happy were we when GB won three gold medals on one day at the 2012 Olympics, and when Nelson Mandela was released from prison? Did we not cry tears of joy when the von Trapps finally managed to escape in Sound of Music, the father at last played with his children in Mary Poppins, Andy Dufresne got his library in The Shawshank Redemption? Large fortunes have been made on the back of our ability to rejoice in good things happening to other people. So why this apparent inconsistency? According to Aristotle, our envy is at its greatest when faced with people who are most like us: 'We envy those who are near us in time, place, age, or reputation.' Whereas, happily, we are unlikely to feel jealous of a small malnourished child being given food in Sudan, we may well feel it towards the person who got the job we applied for, the schoolmate who now earns three times what we do, the friend who has a fabulous new partner. The secret of bridging the gap between these two extremes, says American Buddhist Pema Chodron, is to start with the easy ones. Start with children, for example. Rejoice in their first steps, their happiness on their birthday, their excitement at new experiences. If you don't have children in your life you only have to sit in the park for a short while to witness the regular delight experienced by young children. Move on to loved ones and close friends who have had good fortune in areas that you have also had good fortune in - a new job, for example, a new partner, a great holiday. Think about those who have had a string of bad luck, and now something good has happened for them at last. Maybe someone who has been treated for cancer and has just had the all-clear. Practice these regularly, says Pema Chodron, and you will gradually strengthen your ability to take joy in other people's happiness. As time goes on you can move on to friends who have good luck in areas you covet yourself, people who have things that you no longer do, people maybe that you don't even like! Try this: 1. Think of someone you know who has had a piece of good fortune recently, or someone whose life is generally going well, whose life is one that you would, if you were honest, rather like for yourself. How easy or difficult is it to feel happy for them? If it's easy to be happy, allow yourself the full pleasure of enjoying their happiness. If difficult, get curious about why that might be. Are they holding up a negative mirror to your own life? Does their happiness threaten you in some way? 2. Think of someone you can feel happy for. Enjoy and repeat for someone else. 3. Practice, practice, practice!!! Have a joyful week. Love Anita