I PROMISED A BLOG post about rejoicing, and here it is. Whenever I hear the word rejoice, I think of the Emotions and their album by that title (1977). They’ve got a song called “Rejoice” on the album, but the big hit we all know is “Best of My Love.” Was there ever a more joyful song? (The Eagles also had a mid-70s #1 hit by the same name, but it’s a real downer. Funny, isn’t it?)
Rejoicing is celebrating. It’s finding the good all around us and wanting others to be happy. As an added bonus, celebrating the good fortune of others results in the causes of our own rejoicing. I think we all know this on an intuitive level: happiness breeds happiness. I dedicate this post to Javi, one of the most joyful people I know.
I got a good teaching on rejoicing not long ago. It’s such a simple concept, it seems funny to have to teach it, but isn’t that the way with a lot of these things? Every negative state of mind has an antidote to it, an opponent force — for anger, it’s patience; for miserliness, it’s giving; for jealousy, we have rejoicing.
What is jealousy, really, but wanting something for ourselves? That describes jealousy over another’s success or wealth; it also describes the jealousy we feel in romantic relationships. When love is about wanting something from the other person — even if it’s just wanting to feel secure in knowing they aren’t going away — that’s our self-cherishing kicking in. We’re grasping. As I’ve talked about before, that’s not pure love.
Pure love is about wanting the other person to be happy, not about trying to control them. Just as it harms our mind to envy others’ success or beauty or talent, jealousy in the romantic context causes nothing but suffering. Seriously, has anything good ever come out of jealousy? It’s a powerful emotion, and it comes to us naturally when we feel threatened. But we can learn to recognize and control it.
The antidote to jealousy is rejoicing, which takes us out of our self-absorption to celebrate others’ happiness. (We should rejoice in our own good fortune as well, but don’t have to overcome jealousy to do that.) If a coworker gets the promotion you wanted, be happy for them. If an artist wins the prize you thought you deserved, rejoice in their accomplishment. If your romantic interest turns heads, celebrate that. Yes, really. If they find someone else who makes them happy, celebrate that too.
I am reminded of a yoga class I was in years ago where the instructor said, “If this is your favorite pose, rejoice in it. If it’s not, change your mind.” If rejoicing sounds easy, that’s because it is. You can do it lying in bed (in fact, it can be easier to rejoice if you’re in bed with the right person). But you’ll need to get over a whole lifetime of self-cherishing and instead direct your love outwards, or it won’t really work. That’s the hard part.
We are all conditioned to look out for ourselves first. It’s built in to our culture and hard to break free of. But try. It’s worth it. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that putting ourselves above others is the cause of all conflict in the world. And it’s the cause of all our own mental suffering. If you don’t like where your thoughts and emotions are taking you, the first step is to notice that. The second is to free your mind.