“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.
- 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).
- 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 Readers: Please share stories where other people found joy in your suffering which was most likely invited because you boasted of your virtues.