Inviting Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude” is a great German loan word which means “taking joy in the suffering of others”.  Schadenfreude appears in everyday life in the sickest of ways. For instance, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people speak of huge tragedies with subtle half-smiles as if they are saying to their listener, “Gee, did you hear about that tidal wave killing 30,000 people [isn’t that awesome, I mean, ‘terrible’]?”

Why do we do that?  Perhaps one reason is because of the silly cognitive illusion that there is only so much bad luck out there and so if bad things happen to others, the bad luck is getting used up and therefore we are safer.  I am sure there are lots of others theories why Schadenfreude is so common.  This wiki article has great information on Schadenfreude.  But aside from the theories,  I think most of us intuitively know that Schadenfreude is a destructive emotion.

But a sure way to get others to feel “schadenfreude” towards you is to boast of something virtuous. Boast about the virtues of your religion, your philosophy, your blog, your diet, your exercise habits, or your kids.  Don’t be fooled, people just don’t want to hear all the wonderful things in your life.  This becomes clear when you listen carefully to the Schadenfreude in everyday conversations.   Since most people try to be discrete in expressing their schadenfreude, you may never find out that others are rejoicing  in telling of your misfortunes.

The following are examples of situations guaranteed to generated Schadenfreude:  the sick vegetarian, the divorcing Christian, the pissed off Buddhist, the super family with a kid on heroine. People love telling others of our miseries — especially if we have gone out of our way to speak of our virtues.

Suggested Cures:

  1. Share Your Mistakes: Be slow to speak of your own virtues. Remember, people generally love hearing about our mistakes and foibles much more than our successes. We can learn from each others mistakes — so share them (if you are feeling strong enough). People will like you more, you will learn humility and vulnerability, and you will not invite schadenfreude (thus people may be even quicker to come to your aid in time of need).
  2. Cultivate Sympathetic Joy:  Recognize that schadenfreude, while it may be funny, it is ultimately unhealthy and very destructive.  Try to consciously cultivate positive emotions like taking joy in the success of others (sympathetic joy) and truly feeling the sorrow of others by understanding how much you share with them.

I have recently been the victim of Schadenfreude.  I saw people taking subtle joy in my recent shoulder injury which is due to intense training for this summer’s triathlons.  I obviously spoke way too much about my training and with too much self-righteous pride.  Likewise, I incurred schadenfreude years ago when I boasted of the virtues of my vegetarian diet too.  Actually, I have invited schadenfreude far more often than I am comfortable confessing! 🙂

Question for ReadersPlease share stories where other people found joy in your suffering which was most likely invited because you boasted of your virtues.



Filed under Philosophy & Religion

10 responses to “Inviting Schadenfreude

  1. I have done a lot to attempt to rid myself of this from both ends. I do try not to sound arrogant or superior to others as I identify it as a weakness. Further, I am repelled when I myself feel that subtle pleasure of someone else getting what I think s/he deserves in a destructive way. As a gay clergy member, I have in the past taken some subtle pleasure when a prominent Christian who has been vocal about condemning gay people is then found to have been concealing his own sexual proclivities.

    I believe as a society, our sense of justice has been perverted and twisted by moralists and those who historically have brandished elements of faith-based systems of social interaction as a rapier to manipulate others into behaving in a way that is beneficial only to the one(s) in power. This is why Marx called religion an opiate, it can, when misapplied and frankly abused, sedate vast numbers of people into compliance and even complicity in despicable behavior.

    A firm tenant of my faith is the notion of the destructiveness of vain-pride. I’m not talking about a feeling of satisfaction in an accomplishment, but in the arrogance adopted by the notion that one is superior to others in thought, action or condition. This sense of superiority is what leads to Schadenfreud.

    It is remarkable to me how vast numbers of people who proclaim the same faith as I do actively justify their own schadenfreud as God’s retribution or vindication of them and their values. It is the same schadenfreud, however, which causes others who, admittedly like me, subtly enjoy the suffering that is as of necessity part of the process of having hypocrisy revealed. Now when I see this happen, I try very hard to focus my attention on the fear, confusion, and even self-loathing that must have sadly plagued that individual before his/her scandal. I am aided in my quest of pathos by questions like: What caused this person to so despise elements of his/her own being to preach so vocally against it? What social pressures caused them to conform and hide their true nature?

  2. When I’ve written articles about cult leaders or sexual deviants inside Buddhist circles, I can’t say I didn’t take some pleasure when some of them ended up in big trouble or, one case in jail.

    Don’t know, it’s hard not to do in some cases, especially when you feel they deserve what they got.

  3. every time i trash talk my opponent in my fantasy football league, i lose. this could be superstition or just ill-timed remarks on my part, but it’s the easiest and lightest example to offer up. the others are too painful.

    sorry i used a sports illustration too.

  4. I don’t think I’ve ever been a target of Schadenfreude, and I don’t take efforts to try to avoid being a target. Likewise, I can’t really think of any times when I’ve taken pleasure specifically from someone’s misfortune. It’s just not something that occurs to me.

    In a way, it’s similar to how some people will compete with one another to be the “favorite” of a parent, teacher, or boss. I know people who are deeply motivated like this, and there’s nothing wrong with it — but it’s just not something my psyche can parse.

    To be clear, though, trash-talking an opponent on the basketball court or in a video game is the opposite of Schadenfreude. It’s an important part of the game, and someone who talks trash to your face is someone you can trust 🙂

  5. Schadenfreude is basically similar to illegal narcotics – in that it’s generally alright to enjoy it, in moderation, so long as you firmly realize that it’s a vice – and, ideally, you don’t advertise your enjoyment of it to anybody else.

  6. @ Joseph :
    Yes, Schadenfreude comes from our hurt or weak side, I am afraid.

    @ @ Kyle, Zero1ghost, Jimbo & JS Alen :
    All very Interesting — thanx. But I must have written my question poorly so let me restate: Have you ever incurred deserved Schadenfreude?

    @ Jimbo :
    That had me laughing my butt off. (Ooops, have I revealed too much?)

    @ JR Allen :
    Laughing — I love trash mouthing. Indeed, it is not Schadenfreude but instead an agreed method of fun competition (even though some fools may not understand the beauty). 🙂

  7. Whether schadenfreude is ever “deserved” is rather a loaded question, and has more to do with the philosophy of the observer than with anything absolute.

    Has schadenfreude ever been taken at my expense? Undoubtedly. Have I ever deserved it? In my own eyes, rarely; in the schadenfreudist’s eyes, probably much more frequently. Most of life works like that.

  8. @ Jimbo

    As I tried to make my post illustrate exactly what I meant “deserved” in the sense of boasting about one’s supposed virtues. So, yes, it was loaded — by the loading was spelled out. Jeez, talking can be such an effort, while writing can be much more laborious! I was simply inviting people to humbly share their own silliness. I have shared mine.

    (See “Generous Translation“)

  9. i honestly can’t think of one. prolly because i’m so humble. in fact, i’m the most humble person i know.

  10. Verrrry funny

    Sent from my DROID!

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