Schadenfreude (German): Noun : Satisfaction or Pleasure Felt at Someone Else's Misfortune

Have you ever felt that tiny bit of joy when your peer does not get the promotion they much deserved? Your Ex who is now married to someone they felt was better than you, are having relationship problems, that definitely makes you happy. If you have felt anything similar to this, believe me you are far from alone. The German language has a word for it, Schadenfreude. It means pleasure caused by the misfortune of others. There is no label for it in English that of course does not mean the feeling does not exist. At one time or another, most people have derived some satisfaction from other’s troubles or failures.

In a socially competitive human race it is not enough to succeed, others must fail. There is a whole industry out there making billions of dollars exploiting this one emotion, Schadenfreude.

Bad news attracts 5 times the attention compared to a happy story. Reality TV, news channels and most of Indian daily soap operas are thriving on it.

So does that make us all a bad person, as thinking poorly of others well being is considered pure evil, isn’t that what we all were taught as kids. Then why do we feel this way?

Firstly, not everyone experiences Schadenfreude, or at the same intensity. People who suffer from a sense of inadequacy or inferiority are said to experience it regularly. A 2011 study in journal Emotion found that people with low self esteem were more likely to experience Schadenfreude when confronted with a high achievers set back. It provides the observers with low self esteem an opportunity to feel good about them. Indeed, envy plays a primary role in elevating this feeling. Researchers have also found that envy was a powerful element underlying feelings of Schadenfreude toward high status people especially politicians all over the world.

Another reason also comes down to the simple fact that we often stand to gain from other’s misfortune.  Let’s admit we live in a supremely competitive word. ‘ Never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake’ advised Napoleon. Sometimes misfortunes happening to rivals can simply level the competition. A simple example would be of how elated we feel when our favorite cricket team is winning due to their rivals playing badly. We simply write it off as the rival team deserves what’s happening to them.  

People with chronic anxiety or depression are also more likely to seek validation in others failures. Experiencing Schadenfreude at minor misfortunes like slipping off a banana peel is considered harmless, almost a part of normal human behavior. Although, there are serious cases where people have felt delight at a terminal illness or even death. Such people are highly likely to cause serious harm either to themselves or the ones around them. This is a considered as a grave condition and needs medical attention.

Schadenfreude is not really a BAD thing and I am glad the German’s came up with an awesome word for it. It’s perfectly normal to be jealous or feel envious of others. Although, it’s not something people will readily admit to, there is a strong motivation to cover it up even if they are quite aware of it. So, as long as, one is just experiencing the feeling and not causing someone to feel it, Schadenfreude is quite natural. 

So the next time you catch yourself smiling when someone twists an ankle, or loses a job or puts on an excess of 10 pounds it could reveal that you are jealous of that person and experiencing Schadenfreude for sure!!

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