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Appreciative Joy in Buddhism and Positive Empathy in Psychology: How Do They Differ?


Appreciative joy, as one of the four immeasurables in Buddhism, refers to feeling happy for people, and it is cultivated by appreciative joy meditation (AJM). There is a debate regarding whether appreciative joy is conceptually the same as positive empathy (empathy for others’ positive experiences); thus, this report empirically tests the similarities and differences between appreciative joy and positive empathy. Study 1 recruited a sample of 317 general participants using an online survey and evaluated the similarities and differences between the Appreciative Joy Scale (AJS) and the Positive Empathy Scale (PES) on the outcome variables of altruism, envy, and subjective well-being. Confirmatory factor analyses showed that the AJS and PES were independent of one another, and hierarchical multiple regressions indicated that AJS accounted for more variances on altruism than the PES. Study 2 recruited 119 participants in an experiment in a laboratory setting and compared the effects of AJM and the psychological operation of positive empathy in a matched setting on self-reported emotions and interpersonal attitudes. The analysis of variance (ANOVA) demonstrated that AJM generated significantly more other-focused positive emotions (e.g., love) in comparison with the positive empathy condition. These two studies supported that the concept and psychological operation of positive empathy differ from appreciative joy and AJM in Buddhism. In particular, the results in terms of altruism and other-focused positive emotions supported the conceptual analysis that appreciative joy directly involves kind intentions toward the target, whereas positive empathy does not necessarily do so.

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Dr. Oei is now an Emeritus Professor of the University of Queensland and also a visiting Professor of the James Cook University, Singapore and Nanjing University, PR China.

Author Contributions

XZ and FL designed the study; XZ, VC, and XL collected and analyzed the data; XZ, TO, and XL collaborated in the writing of the paper. All authors discussed the findings, reviewed, and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Freedom YK. Leung.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Zeng, X., Chan, V.Y., Oei, T.P. et al. Appreciative Joy in Buddhism and Positive Empathy in Psychology: How Do They Differ?. Mindfulness 8, 1184–1194 (2017).

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  • Appreciative joy
  • Sympathetic joy
  • Empathic joy
  • Positive empathy
  • Muditā
  • Loving-kindness meditation
  • Four immeasurables
  • Buddhism
  • Altruism
  • Envy