Jealousy and Mudita

summer flowers

Photo by Skitterphoto on

Mudita comes from Sanskrit and Pali, and means sympathetic joy, or joy in the good fortune of others.

An author tweeted recently about a friend who rated the author’s book 2-stars on Goodreads. In her tweet, the author wondered why this person did such a thing. My first thought—that friend is jealous.

Jealousy can creep into relationships in insidious ways. If you have a friend, and you sense a tiny element of delight in their response when your life gets rough, jealousy might be raising its ugly head. If a bestie reacts to your good news with minimal enthusiasm, they might be jealous. If you begin to feel like you’re not safe with that person, if they start to take offence at the slightest thing, they’re probably jealous. They’re struggling to find their mudita.

I’ve had minimal success in writing; I’m just getting going, but it has been interesting to notice different reactions when I have good writing news.

One writing acquaintance stopped contacting me when I was shortlisted for the Richell Prize. Though we’d recently messaged and supported each other, the writer didn’t congratulate me, and stopped interacting altogether. A coincidence, perhaps, but it baffled me. Another friend—not in the writing world—goes through the motions of congratulating me on publications or placings, but she never seems truly pleased. Perhaps she doesn’t realise what each achievement means to me, but regardless, her muted reactions sting.

On the flip side, other friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in person for several years, have been brilliant. High school pals leave excited comments on social media, Uni mates buy copies of magazines or anthologies where my work is published, old workmates send cheery messages. And my close friends are amazing—there for me in good times and bad. I couldn’t make it without them.

So these days, I’m all about spending time with people who are genuine and kind. Those who I can support and celebrate. Those who are disappointed for me when I have setbacks, and who share in my successes. Those who, like me, might occasionally feel jealousy, but who know its perils and brush it off.

To all you lovely writers who chat with me—in person, on this site, on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instagram—to you warm, encouraging and funny people: thank you. You are shining examples of mudita.

24 thoughts on “Jealousy and Mudita

  1. Love the concept of ‘mudita’—I didn’t realise there was even a term for ‘sympathetic joy’. How nice!

    Jealousy’s normal and natural, but it’s a damn horrible feeling. In this social media age, where people spout their successes everywhere, it can feel like everyone else is achieving when you’re not. It’s hit me at times, too, and I’ve actually had to take a spell from social media until I feel better about myself.

    I know you shouldn’t compare your insides to others’ outsides, but that’s hard in practice. I try to use my jealousy to motivate me. As in, ‘I want what they’ve got’. It gives me hope, spurs me on to work harder. Knowing it happened for them, means it might happen for me. Probably ridiculous, but … I still hope!

    Lastly, I hope I’ve never been one of those who can’t support or encourage other writers (you included) and congratulate them on their success, even when I’m going through a dry spell. 🙂

    • Gorgeous Louise, you are always so kind and supportive and honest. I’m so lucky to know you.

      And I absolutely agree, feeling jealousy is part of being human, and I feel jealousy, like everyone. I guess what I meant was how we react is important. For me, jealousy usually means I need to do something about my own writing or life, to get rid of the jealousy. Your approach of using it to motivate you is a great one – changing it into determination!

      I suppose I wrote this because I’m no longer prepared to spend time and energy on people who consistently act lukewarm in the face of their friends’ good fortune (or who seem a teensy bit happy at their misfortune). And because with this attitude, I now find myself socialising with people (IRL and online) who are just wonderful human beings. xxx

  2. Fiona, I agree that it is best to avoid spending time with people who are unable to celebrate your/others’ successes. There is nothing to be gained from harbouring these sort of feelings, in my opinion. Writing is a tough gig and who better than fellow writers to understand that? We need to support each other.
    P.S. And by the way, your successes in writing to date are definitely NOT minimal,

    • I totally agree, Karen — I was like “minimal?? what?”

      Fiona — you have supported me in ways I cannot articulate. Every time I look at a certain cake tin, in moments of despair, I feel reinvigorated about my writing. Thank you for your sympathetic joy in my milestones. x

  3. I feel like I’m not “jealous” of your success but naturally a little envious – I mean, who wouldn’t want to be shortlisted for the Richell?! But also super happy for you because I know you deserve all of that success and more! I was actually thinking something similar along these lines today about a friend of mine (not a writer) who has read my work but who I realise has never said anything nice at all – not that she enjoyed it, but even if she didn’t enjoy it, she could have at least acknowledged it was an achievement to have written something. And another time when I had success (minimal but actually for real minimal) in a competition she then tried to enter the next round herself, thinking it must be easy. Anyway, these things made me feel bad about myself but I try to brush them off and keep going.

    • Hi Alyssa, I know exactly what you mean – I feel envious of people, too, but I reckon that’s ok if you’re also happy for them.
      And I’m sorry that you’ve had a similar experience with a friend. Thankfully the writing community is so great, and we can take consolation from the many supportive writer friends around us.
      Definitely keep going! And I will, too 🙂

    • Hi Maureen, thanks so much for your comment. I have to confess that I didn’t know the word either until I googled ‘sympathetic joy’ (which I knew from reading a book on Buddhism) and found out there was a single word to express this concept.
      And you’re so right about the practising – the more we can work on putting aside our (very natural and human) jealousy, the better we get at feeling joy for others. Which can only be a good thing 🥰

  4. Fi, what a ripper post. So honest and cuts through the bullshit – and in doing so opens up a very relatable aspect of the writing life. I related to basically everything you said. Which suggests that so many of us have shit mates lol. I like the idea of mudita and agree with your conclusions – hanging around with positive and kind people is a goer. Thanks for writing such a real piece. Bravo.

    PS. Your writing achievements are not minimal in any way.

    • Holden, thank you for reading and for adding your thoughts. It sucks that you can relate, but I hope the piece made you feel that we all encounter this type of behaviour (which is sometimes so subtle you feel you can’t even call it out).
      The good thing about realising how destructive jealousy can be is that I now try hard to manage my own envy without affecting others, as well as finding those positive and kind people to hang out with, just like you say. 🙂

  5. I love the concept of mudita Fiona and thanks for the post. Those little pokes at our confidence can add up.
    And I’m with you, much better to spend your time with the people who’ve got your back and will celebrate and commiserate in the right places. Makes me think of JIm Rohn’s quote about us being the average of the five people we spend the most time with. Sounds like you’ve found your five.

    • Hi Veronica, love how you describe these small acts as pokes at our confidence. So true, and can be so damaging over time.
      I haven’t heard that quote by Jim Rohn but it makes a lot of sense.
      Thanks for your insights Veronica ❤️

  6. Oh golly! I related so much. I have a family member who consistently diminishes anything at all to do with my writing to the point that it’s almost pathological. I have made the decision (like you) to spend more time with people who lift you up. Much better for the soul (and fragile artistic ego)! Thanks for writing it and may you be loved and cherished for being an awesome wordsmith. Nik xx

    • Wow, it seems like so many of us have experienced this same hurt. I’m sorry about your family member – that can cut even closer to the bone.
      I hope it has helped you to read the comments similar to yours (here, plus a few on Twitter) in which everyone is being so honest and vulnerable and encouraging. Makes my heart so full.
      Thank you Nik for your very kind words, and I wish you much love and support too xx

  7. Thank you for introducing me to MUDITA! The concept is brilliant – and the word is quite lovely. I do enjoy your writing, Fiona, and I wish you every success. (I hope I am expressing mudita here.) Another wonderful thing is the background image on this blog – the mysterious, beckoning wild rocks, the distant golden light in the triangle of trees.

    • Hi Carmel, I really like the concept of mudita, too! Thank you for your very kind words.
      I hope we can meet in person at the launch of the Thrill Me anthology (I have family in Adelaide so could combine a rellies visit with the launch) – will just depend on other commitments, but I’ll be there if I possibly can!
      Wishing you happy writing until then 🙂

  8. Great post Fiona. Annie Lamott writes about this writerly jealousy in Bird by Bird and makes it sound really funny. But it doesn’t feel fun when it happens! I’m getting much better at Mudita these days. It really is true that success occurs in clusters and there’s plenty for everyone! Lots of love xxx

    • Yes I love Bird by Bird, too. I remember Lamott writing about how most writers don’t get words down easily, apart from one woman she knows who writes as if dictated to by God, ‘but we don’t like her very much’! 😂
      As for your mudita, I continue to try to emulate you. I’ll never forget when I congratulated you *at your own book launch* (for Thrill Seekers), and you said to me ‘This will be you one day, having your own book launch’. I was stunned that you would be thinking of someone else’s writing career at such a time. You are a darling ❤️

  9. Fiona, your words and the way you approach your writing are equally beautiful. I am excited to see your star rise from afar.

    Thank you for giving a name to this joy–and for the reminder that, when we give love, it grows.

    • What a perfect way to describe mudita – ‘when we give love, it grows’.
      Thank you Hannah, and I’m glad you liked the post. I hope all is going well with you and your family. x

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s