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Giving yourself permission to rejoice in what’s good…

December 25, 2011

in Buddhism, Spiritual Growth

In the Discovering Buddhism (FPMT) program it’s often repeated that we should regret our bad actions, words and thoughts, but that we can also rejoice in what’s good.

Rejoicing is not a part of our Western Culture, especially Dutch culture. The Dutch are very good at complaining, my mom even suspects that this is one of the reasons why the Dutch are so happy: they get the negative out of their system.

However that may be, it is a bit weird that it’s so easier to focus on what’s bad, than on what’s good. I’m sure that’s partly because the good doesn’t need fixing, so why spend energy on it?

On the other hand: one sure way of ruining relationships is to focus only on the bad. A naughty child will usually do a chore as well as a ‘good’ child and in being productive they will feel good about themselves and behave (usually only a bit) better in class. A child that thinks that it can only do things wrong will never try and rectify the situation or try and please the teacher or parent.

From a karmic perspective rejoicing really is the opposite of miserliness. If we’re able to rejoice in the good that someone like Oprah Winfrey does, we won’t have as much energy left over to envy her. It’s pretty obvious that it’s a better use of our energy to do the first than the second.

In fact, rejoicing is said to be the lazy man’s route to good karma: you don’t have to meditate all day to get merit, you can just rejoice in someone else’s meditation practice. You don’t have to give to charity yourself, you can just rejoice in how well other people are doing.

You’ll find though that this is not easy: rejoicing in something someone else is doing well that you might have done is very hard. Instead you’ll find yourself resenting that person, which is your psychological defense mechanism against feeling guilty that you’re NOT doing that.

In that sense it’s much easier to just rejoice in Oprah’s good works and good intentions: she does things with her money most of us simply aren’t able to do. We don’t have her wealth, nor her connections, so we don’t have to feel guilty for not joining in.

Still, even in that case it’s apparently not self-evident that we rejoice. When I was in the Chicago area a few years ago I was told that in fact many people did NOT like Oprah or admire her. Perhaps it had something to do with people realizing the folly of making a show like hers: I met some people who knew people who’d been on it. They’d shared just how puffed up everything was, how they’d been forced to tell their story in a way that was out of proportion to how it really was.

Partly that’s simply how the media work: they tell a story and when any of us make the headlines we become part of the story they wish to tell. It’s only the really PR savvy celebrity who manages to make sure the media tell those aspects of the story that they WANT to have told. And even in that case it’s about making sure it’s a story that the media CAN tell their audience. I think the Dalai Lama succeeds pretty well at that, for instance.

Let us rejoice at that!

Similarly in Tibetan Buddhism we have permission to rejoice in the things we do well. Did you just give some money to charity? Good – rejoice! You don’t have to be proud, you don’t have to puff yourself up thinking you’re so great, but you don’t have to pull yourself down either. Just rejoice in having done something positive.


Though this post is not written on Christmas Day I’m publishing it on that day, for the few of you who aren’t spending this day with family.

Perhaps because it is Christmas Day we can share things we rejoice at. It can be personal things, or people we admire, or things in our lives we’re thankful for…

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