Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A particular form of joy

Artist: Jerry Weiss

Have you ever had the experience of spontaneously feeling envious when someone has shared good news? It can be a really horrible feeling and, in some cases, can also lead to ongoing resentment. Rabbi Nilton Bonder speaks to this:
Yiddish has a very special verb, unknown to most other languages: farginen. It means to open space, to share pleasure; it is the exact opposite of the verb to envy. While envy means disliking or resenting the happiness of others, farginen means making a pact with another individual's pleasure or happiness. This unique word represents the space in which we allow others to express their happiness, feeling of success, or gladness.
Discipline is needed for farginen, because this feeling is rarely natural to human beings in their animal dimension. There is nothing wrong or false about seeking such learning. Like any other kind of social ability, such as not stealing, farginen comes through discipline. . . . When we are able to farginen someone spontaneously, it means we have done the required groundwork of dealing with our self-esteem, at least to some extent. But we will always have to work at reacting to opportunities for farginen, so as not to miss them.
It's much easier to suffer with a friend, to help someone who is less fortunate, than to farginen. It's much harder to sincerely share others' happiness. And the consequences are proportional: those whose suffering we share are eternally grateful, while those whose happiness we share will eternally care for us, as true friends.
Actually, there's a Sanskrit word that is very similar. The word is mudita and is usually translated into English as "sympathetic joy". It is that ability to be "in sympathy" with another in that person's joy as well as in his or her sorrow. Both mudita and farginen remind me of the biblical injunction to "rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep."


  1. thank You Ellie *
    You have such a generous open spirit in sharing all spiritual practices.

  2. It's a great concept. And I know how difficult it is. Some can piggy back on the joy of others by making about themselves. But the person who takes pleasure in all others to express their happiness or success is a person who is truly comfortable with his or herself, and such people are not plentiful. I don't think I'm all that good at it myself. But I appreciate those that are.

  3. Yes. This is my number one problem in life at this moment in time, especially as I belong to such a large blogging and Facebook community. But I would suggest that the negative reaction to another's good news is not always envy. I personally find it a reminder of the bad news I live with and so my sin is one of wallowing in misery rather than jealousy.

  4. Yes, Mad Priest...I too sometimes feel a bit sorry for myself when I compare myself to what I perceive to be others' good fortune...but then I try to remember that, they too, most likely have their own suffering going on. Then I "change the subject" in my head!

    annie c

  5. I don't like that, anonymous. I think that's one of the reasons the poor stay poor and the oppressed stay oppressed. Envy may be a sin but anger at ones unfair position in life is not, in my opinion. Progress is usually achieved through owned dissatisfaction. In any case I'm referring to a specific situation. A person whose main suffering is due to having cancer may be reminded of it when she hears about another cancer patient going into remission. But that same person won't have the same reaction if she hears that somebody has got a job. To expect a person with cancer to feel better about their situation because a person who has entered remission hasn't got a job seems wrong to me.

  6. Annie's comment reminds me of the old saying, "Don't judge your insides by other people's outsides." I do think there's a lot to be said for that.

    I also am personally (painfully) aware of just how triggers can work. And so, I would agree that it's certainly true that a negative reaction to another's good fortune isn't always envy. Sometimes it's just that a particularly raw place has been touched.

    I do think the old "comparisons are odious" maxim can be helpful.

  7. Mad Priest -"To expect a person with cancer to feel better about their situation because a person who has entered remission hasn't got a job seems wrong to me."

    I don't see how that statement applies to anything. I thought the issue was the tendency to feel bad when others have a reason to be happy that we don't have, not to feel good that someone else is having a rough time because we are also having a rough time. The two views are different in my mind. I do sometimes feel envy instead of happiness when another person has good news and I don't. But it is not normal for me to feel good because someone else has no job because I've just suffered a tragic event in my life. I don't think I heard that from anyone.

  8. Yes, Tom, I would agree that they are different issues. However, they often tend to be connected rather strongly because of the tendency some well-meaning folks have to try to talk people who are suffering out of their feelings - rarely if ever a good idea. I happen to know that MadPriest has been subjected to that rather a lot lately.

    Basically, I guess I'd like to chime in that I really like the Yiddish word here and the Sanskrit word as well. I'd assert that they are helpful to the extent that we use the principle to encourage ourselves to cultivate the willingness and ability to celebrate with people but not to fault ourselves when we're struggling with difficult or painful feelings.

    Does that make sense?

  9. Yes, you are right. Certainly piling guilt on ourselves because our inner thoughts are not what they ideally should be is counter productive. We have to accept our imperfections. And when it is a matter of rejoicing with someone else when we're really a bit envious I think putting up a good front isn't a bad thing - especially when we do it for the other person's sake.

    Sorry Mad Priest. I just didn't see where that was coming from.

  10. Folks, do click through to Kara Rane's website (Kara left the first comment on this post) to see her absolutely gorgeous art work.

  11. I know this post was written a long time ago, but I've just found it. Thank you -- it's a beautiful image and idea. (both the painting and the word)

  12. Hello, Kimberly. I'm delighted to hear from you. (No matter that this was posted a while back.)

    I'm really glad you like the image. I was particularly pleased at having found it. And, as you can see, the concept spelled out above generated a lot of reflection by several people.

    I hope you will come back and visit again. I have to confess that I've been neglecting this blog of late but I really want to rally myself and get back to it consistently!


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