Focus on Happiness
The practice is quite simple. At its most basic, you keep your attention on one thought: "I'm happy that you're happy." It's easiest to get the feel of this by thinking of a person you know who is usually happy and upbeat. This does not have to be someone you know personally; it can be someone who you've seen on TV, for example.
You can go through a list this way:
- Someone you know who is generally happy
- A benefactor
- A friend
- A neutral person, like a bank teller
- Someone you find difficult to get along with
- Then your family, city, state, ..., the world
- The universe
- All sentient beings
You might notice the mention of a "difficult person". The recommendation that I received was initially to not include someone who is really difficult to get along with, just a little. Remember, you're focusing on happiness, after all. And though I mention people specifically, the list ends with "all sentient beings", so it's good to include animals as well. Anybody who's watched a dog or otter play can appreciate their sheer joy of life.
For myself I find it an odd thing to say, "I'm happy that I'm happy," so instead I say, "Others are happy that I'm happy." When you think about it, that's really true, even if the others are just strangers in a grocery line.
When I practice sympathetic joy, I use two phrases. On the in breath I think, "I'm happy that you're happy" and on the out breath I think, "May your happiness continue." Or for myself, "Others are happy that I'm happy. May my happiness continue." These two sets of thoughts complement each other to again demonstrate our interdependence: When you're happy, I'm happy and when I'm happy, you're happy.