I am discovering in my life the incredible appreciation I have for my two boys. At each step of their lives I feel the joy of their growth. This brings to mind Mudita, the Buddhist idea of sympathetic or appreciative joy.
Mudita is the idea that we can feel joy in someone else’s success or pleasure.
I knew when I became a dad I would enjoy time spent with my kids. I knew it would be fun. I also knew it would bring into my life challenges that I couldn’t predict.
Over the last year, all of this has been true. I have felt the fun of being with my twin boys. Playing and laughing with them has been more than I imagined. The challenges that come with new parents, lack of sleep, little time for myself have also been a part of it. This is was what I predicted.
If being a dad had just been this, I would have found complete satisfaction. But there was something else that emerged over the last year. I discovered an adoration in my boys that I didn’t know I could feel. The best word to describe this is joy.
Fatherhood has opened my heart to a new level of emotional feeling that has allowed me to increase the sensitivity I have to others.
I will say that, generally speaking, my nervous system stays at a pretty modulated set point. I don’t get too overwhelmed by my emotions. This means I don’t go too far into the depths of anger and frustration and, it also means, that I don’t feel the incredible highs of joy. I feel happiness and contentment but I miss out on some of the bigger highs.
Being with my boys I revel in their enthusiasm for learning how to stand up or taste whipped cream for the first time. I feel their excitement and it feels like it is helping me to find more of this in my life.
Mudita: Appreciative Joy
In the Buddhist tradition we learn that Mudita is a way for people to savor in someone else’s pleasure. Oftentimes this Sanskrit word is translated as sympathetic joy. However, in the West sympathy often has a negative connotation. Appreciative Joy better describes the deep connection that Mudita calls us to find in ourselves.
When we are given the news by someone close to us of their being promoted or a sudden financial windfall we may find in ourselves the willingness to say the necessary words of gratitude. But are we really feeling their joy?
In understanding Mudita it is learning how to step back from our initial feelings of indifference or envy and really feel into the joyfulness of another human being. When we do this we can feel the deeper connection of appreciative joy. We can sense the other’s full humanity in that moment.
Fatherhood As A Way To Joy
I believe that fathers can find a deeper sensitivity in their lives by spending time with their kids. Men often lose some level of sensation in their lives because of how our culture tends to condition men to stop feeling. I know this is true in my life.
Being with my kids has really helped me to find more and more sensation. Some of this is the utter frustration at silly things when my kids are struggling. I want to throw the car seat into the street as I struggle with the buckles why Gabriel is crying and just wants out. I want to rip up his pajamas after snagging Isaiah in the zipper. These are more intense levels of feeling that I didn’t know about until being a father.
It is also the elation of watching them discover things in their life. The feeling I get when I see them walk for the first time. I am so happy, proud and filled with joy. In my past, I would rationalize these kind of events and deny the feelings arising. But with these two it is so palpable that I can’t deny how powerful these feelings are.
Bringing This Into My Life
I grew up in a family that could be at times very loving and at times shaming. As a result, I didn’t believe that I deserved much and tended to feel ashamed when I was given appreciation. This has consistently held me back from feeling the joy in my own life.
When offered help or support I would often responds quickly with, “no, I’m fine but thank you.” I failed to see the mutuality of my unwillingness to take in other people’s love. I denied people who cared for me their desire to love me because of my shame at receiving love.
I have worked a great deal on this and today I’m much better at it. I can still feel some of the shame at allowing in loving-kindness. Thanks to my loving wife for helping to crack a closed heart. With my two boys there has been an even greater crack. Their excitement and enthusiasm has come into my life and lifted me to unexpected levels of joy and delight. I marvel in their lives and love each moment of being with them.
People talk about parenthood as loving your kids at a depth you didn’t know possible. I anticipated that this would be very powerful for me. And it has been. My heart has expanded to allow in the heights of joyous appreciation for Gabriel and Isaiah.
If you are looking to connect deeper with your kids please reach out. I offer a complimentary phone call. Dads, click here.
About the Author
My name is Bryce Giron Mathern and I am the proud father of two incredibly smart and hilarious twin boys. My wife and I live in Denver, Colorado. My family has been the greatest teachers to me, along with my work at BrassBalls TenderHeart, my coaching practice for men struggling in their lives in relationships.
With WholeHearted Dads, my goal is to help you achieve phenomenal and rewarding relationships with your kids. Consider a consultation to see if my WholeHearted Dads programming could help you in your life now. Connect with me here.