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Often when I'm happy for someone's good fortune or success, I find myself using the words envious or envy.

In casual speech with friends, voice tone and familiarity help deliver my positive intent, but I don't like the negative connotation of the word - especially the part where it intends others harm.

Benign envy is a non-starter for me and mudita is far too obscure to use for my taste, despite being the closest word I know for the sentiment I wish to express.

Am I missing some obvious single words or phrases in more common usage than mudita that express a positive feeling i have that is directly related to the positive feelings of another? Shared joy is the closest literal phrase, but it doesn't exactly roll off the tongue for me.

Here is a simple diagram that maps the the state of two people’s happiness in relation to each other - envy, pity, mudita and schadenfreude. The other 3 words stand well alone and are defined by my happiness in relation to another's, but perhaps this is more that mudita needs to be adopted as schadenfreude has already been.

Am I missing a decent alternative to mudita?

enter image description here

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Wait, according to your link "mudita" doesn't have any envy in it - it is peacefully happy. –  Adel Jul 16 '11 at 21:46
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Bingo! I want a word that means peaceful happiness - genuine joy over another's success. That's precisely why I'm not liking envy for this emotion. –  bmike Jul 16 '11 at 21:49
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Just say I'm happy for you. No overtones of envy there. –  FumbleFingers Jul 16 '11 at 21:59
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@Fumble But so often, people say "I'm happy for you" when they're not actually happy, they're just trying to cover their envy. To me, it comes across as sarcastic and insincere at best. –  CajunLuke Jul 17 '11 at 1:34
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What a wonderfully clear, unpretentious and instructive diagram! –  Georges Elencwajg Jul 17 '11 at 9:05
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9 Answers

Are you in any way (even slightly) related to the person, or in any way (even slightly) responsible for their happiness? If so, kvell might work for you.

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Wow - that's a great suggestion. I wasn't looking for something that implied proudness - but that's a great word and much closer to the existence of other single words to mean sympathetic happiness for two people. –  bmike Jul 18 '11 at 16:39
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OP's clearly not interested in answers that imply envy, admiration, aspiration, or anything else that would imply he himself would like to have that other person's good fortune. He just wants to describe the empathic pleasure one person can feel, being aware of anothers good fortune. It's one of the reasons we watch tv game shows and talent contests, for example.

Strangley, we don't seem to have a lot of standard terms. Googling for take pleasure in another's pleasure simply ignores the repeated word; millions of results for solo pleasures, and taking pleasure in other's misfortune.

The best I can come up with is vicarious pleasure. Sadly I'm afraid even that's imperfect, because Google just reflects common preconceptions. Many people would assume a vicarious good feeling probably implies that the original pleasure was at the very least naughty, if not downright nasty or even sickening. We are a suspicious species.

Or - as per my earlier comment - just say I'm happy for you. Your friends wouldn't be worth much if they assumed you were only being sarcastic, when you really meant it.

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My thesaurus had a few good hints:

  • aspire to
  • wish for
  • look up to

Extending to phrases or sentences, you can say something like the following:

Ah, what fortune! One day, my ship will come in.

Congratulations! If only I knew your secrets...

May your success spread to those you love

That being said, envious is perfectly acceptable to express desire without intending harm. I happen to like your example of benign envy and will use it in the future. Of course, as you mention, delivery makes all the difference:

Wow, now that makes me envious...

One trick is to attach the envy to a non-specific third-party or collective group or to refer to the fortunate one as being the envy:

Ah ha, with this success you will be the envy of your colleagues.

All the world will watch with envy

But this does drift back into the vibe of ill will. Replacing envy with aspire to or aspiration works:

Ah ha, your success will be the aspiration of your colleagues.

All the world will aspire to be as you

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Very nice - you're certainly on to something here. I agree attaching the emotion to the inanimate object or concept makes it more joyful. I'll look towards fortunate - that feels to me like a better neighborhood than envy. I totally agree "... the envy of your colleagues" and "... watch with envy" seem to me to imply malevolent envy. –  bmike Jul 16 '11 at 21:55
    
It's difficult to get away from overtones of envy with all the offerings here. You'll be the envy of your colleagues tries to distance the speaker from it - but it's still there, obviously. And May your success spread to those you love just sounds like something off a Chinese fortune cookie to me. –  FumbleFingers Jul 17 '11 at 21:42
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Well, what you have is admiration for that person. That means that you aspire to be in their position but don't mean any harm to them. Quite different from envy.

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I don't see how you can admire your friend's good fortune in winning the lottery, for example. –  FumbleFingers Jul 17 '11 at 3:37
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Envy does have a negative connotation, even if qualified with "benign." How about using a poetic adjective, green? Maybe say, "slightly green."

If that's a bit too funny. I would go with "quiet happiness" or "modest joy"

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Not really what I was shooting for - jealousy seems to me to be more about anticipated loss. I'm envoius of their another's good situation - something I haven't necessarily yet had or obtained and therefore can't yet be insecure about losing. –  bmike Jul 16 '11 at 21:48
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How about "restrained vicarious happiness" ? This is making me scratch my head. –  Adel Jul 16 '11 at 21:52
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How about Munchausen's happiness by proxy? –  FumbleFingers Jul 16 '11 at 21:57
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ty - I'm not sure OP can really have a word to mean "benign envy" either, unless we redefine the word "envy". By the same token, if anyone's ever diagnosed with Munchausen's happiness by proxy, I don't think it would be called a "disease". :) –  FumbleFingers Jul 16 '11 at 22:06
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I love the Munchausen's happiness by proxy - agree we can ditch envy and look for a better single word that relates my happiness to another's happiness :-) All the great help here makes me happy. –  bmike Jul 16 '11 at 22:31
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I have had the same dissatisfaction with using the word envy when I want to express a happy sentiment for my friend's good fortune. Envy is after all one of the seven deadly sins, and that's not exactly what I'm trying to say. I've instead tried to figure out how to use words like celebrate, congratulate, and laud, which imply a shared experience of joy or appreciation.

I celebrate your good news with my gleeful smile!
Congratulations on the arrival of your new baby!
We laud the fruits of your efforts.

These are all verbs rather than nouns, so they wouldn't fit your chart very well. I'm not sure if that's what you are looking for.

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"I'm tickled for you" always works for me.

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How about glad? I believe this would be acceptable and unambiguous, spoken or written.

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Doesn't glad cover both shadenfreude and mudita since it's all about one person's state and isn't specific about why someone is glad? –  bmike May 4 '13 at 18:54
    
It could, but you asked for a word to convey a positive emotion at someone's good fortune rather than using 'envy' which has negative connotations. Therefore it would be related to the positive event. I don't think "I'm so glad he's got a new job/settling down with Jane" could be interpreted in a negative way. –  Mynamite May 4 '13 at 23:11
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Compersion:

an empathetic state of happiness and joy experienced when another individual experiences happiness and joy.

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