What is compersion?
Compersion is our wholehearted participation in the happiness of others. It is the sympathetic joy we feel for somebody else, even when their positive experience does not involve or benefit us directly. Thus, compersion can be thought of as the opposite of jealousy and possessiveness.
Why is it radical?
Compersion depends on viewing other people as intrinsically autonomous and self-determined—and celebrating their own unique path to fulfillment. This might not seem radical when we feel happy for a friend getting a promotion at work, a family member reaching a fitness goal, or a child delighting in learning how to walk. But what if our romantic partner were to experience happiness and growth from an intimate relationship with somebody else? Could we possibly rejoice with them?
When compersion happens in a situation where jealousy is the more common or conditioned response, we are, in a sense, entering the radical, outer reaches of love. Therefore, people who experience compersion in those unexpected places can be considered pioneers of a significant human potential. This is why I decided to conduct research on this phenomenon—so I could learn about this unconventional yet powerful expression of human love.
Why does it matter?
Learning about compersion can benefit people in all types of relationships. Whether one is in a consensually non-monogamous relationship (a designation that includes polyamory, open relationships, swinging, relationship anarchy, and others) or not, compersion conveys to another person that we genuinely support them on their chosen path to wellbeing. This encourages authentic emotional expression, which in turn reinforces a sense of togetherness and being on the same team. Generosity begets generosity, and love begets love—creating a positive emotional feedback loop. Thus, compersion is fundamentally an expression of deep friendship and support, and it can be cultivated as a way to strengthen any connection. (Check out my latest blog to read more on this)
How did the word come about?
The term compersion was coined and defined in the early 1990s by the Kerista community, a San Francisco-based polyamorous group that has since disbanded, as the feeling of taking joy in the joy that others you love share among themselves. In the context of consensually non-monogamous romantic and sexual relationships, compersion refers to the empathetic feeling of joy one experiences when their partner takes pleasure from another relationship.
Although polyamorists were the first to coin this term in the English language, the concept had existed long before.
Buddhists had long considered sympathetic joy (referred to as mudita in Sanskrit) to be one of the four qualities of the enlightened person—the other three being loving kindness (metta), compassion (karuna), and equanimity (upeksha). According to this tradition, mudita remedies the illusory separateness between self and others and can therefore be a powerful vehicle on the path to liberation. You can learn more about the connection between compersion and mudita in this article.
How does one cultivate compersion?
My research aims to reveal some specific factors that promote compersion for consensually non-monogamous individuals. Stay tuned for the results, coming in 2020!
In the meantime, please check out my blog as well as other resources on this important topic. If you have questions or suggestions about how to improve this site, or want to say hello, please make sure to contact me!