Compersion Is The Word You’ve Been Missing Your Whole Life
Think of somebody you love. It could be a friend, a partner, or a family member.
Now think about how you would feel if something really amazing happened to them. Imagine they landed their dream job, married the love of their life, or won the lottery.
You’d be happy for them, right?
It’s nice to think that you would feel that way, but in reality, that’s not always the case. Sometimes, the ugliness of jealousy and envy sneaks in on us, even without the invitation.
To answer that, let’s first define these words. Colloquially, envy and jealousy are pretty much used interchangeably. But they actually have different meanings. Jealousy is the fear that someone is going to take what you have. Envy is the desire for what other people have.
If John’s girlfriend is enjoying time with another dude, he may feel jealous because he is afraid his girlfriend will break up with him. If John’s sister gets a raise at a job, he may feel envious because he wants what she has.
Both feelings come from a scarcity mindset. John is scared that if his girlfriend falls in love with another guy, she won’t love him anymore. With envy, he feels like his sister getting a raise means that there’s less money in the world for him.
And I understand that. Thousands of years ago, we lived in a world where that was true. Back in our cavemen days, we did have a limited number of resources. If John’s sister got two servings of buffalo, that meant that he didn’t get enough to eat. But in our current reality, both love and money (and buffalo) are essentially limitless.
So why do we still have these negative reactions?
If we truly care about somebody, shouldn’t we celebrate their successes as much as our own?
The answer is an obvious yes. Seeing happiness in the ones we love should make us happy too.
But think about how often you hear of good news and your first reaction is envy. Sometimes we feel sad because we want that good thing to happen to us. It’s normal. Mostly because the English language has normalized it.
Our language shapes the way we see the world. When you learn the word “envy” (or jealousy), you learn to associate specific feelings to that word. The more you hear it, the more common you think it is.
Although you may have learned about empathy and compassion, there isn’t a good word that describes the aforementioned feeling of shared joy. And that which cannot be labeled, is harder to be felt.
So why don’t we have a word that John can use when he hears about his sister’s great news? Why isn’t there a word that celebrates her happiness, instead of berates his own accomplishments?
This word exists in other languages. “Mudita,” in Sanskrit, means “the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people's well-being.” “Unne,” in Norwegian means “to be happy on someone else’s behalf.”
Although the English language doesn’t have an official word for it, there is a lesser-known term for this beautiful feeling: compersion.
Compersion cannot be found in the dictionary, but Wikipedia defines it as “an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy.”
This word is used regularly by the polyamory community, but I see no reason why it should stop there.
Everybody can benefit from feeling happy about the happiness of others. And once you’re familiar with the concept, it’s easy to incorporate into your life.
My dad recently moved in with his partner, and it is noticeable how much happier he is now that he sleeps next to her every night. And that rocks! I love my dad, and his happiness makes me happy. Compersion.
Sometimes I look at my brother and his girlfriend holding hands and my heart expands in my chest. My brother found himself a loving, patient, wonderful companion and seeing their love makes me happy. Compersion.
My friend got to go to the concert of his dreams last week. I didn’t care about the musician at all, but hearing him describe how much fun he had made me happy. Compersion.
It definitely doesn’t come naturally. Sometimes, when I see hear about good things happening to other people, I find myself feeling jealous or envious. But in those cases, I simply remind myself that those feelings accomplish absolutely nothing. Actually, they only make me feel worse.
Compersion, on the other hand, makes me feel excited and it makes my friends feel good too. And that makes me feel even better. So it’s an endless loop of happiness.
It’s a difficult mindset to shift. We’ve been programmed with the same ideas for thousands of years. But with enough practice and awareness, compersion can become a natural reaction.
Imagine how happy the world would be we all valued each other’s happiness. If John’s happiness makes me happy too, each time John felt happy, two people would feel happy. And if all of John’s friends felt that way, many people would feel happy. And then happiness would spread like wildfire.
And that’s a world that I want to live in.