Today I laughed inside my head while my face expressed sympathy and the words coming out expressed concern. Nothing serious happened to this person. What I felt was Schadenfreude.
( “ohhh, realyyyyy?”)
Schadenfreude is a German word for pleasure derived from another person’s misfortune. We all feel it and either repress it, push it away or make it personal. We all know that this tendency is not admirable so we hide it. However, when we hide these things not only from others, but from ourselves, we hide a flaw that is inherent in us as humans. We all like to believe that only bad people do and think bad things and that good people do every so often, but must feel guilty about it. Schadenfreude is part of who we are. It is the reason we laugh. We must not indulge in it, but we also must accept it. Who knows? Schadenfreude might be what brings us closer together.
(Again, accept.. not indulge in it)
Feeling joy in the misfortunes of others is in fact healthy and natural as long as that misfortune is not life threatening. In fact, this is part of evolution. When we smile as a response to another’s misfortune our brains are sending us signals that make us feel good. These signals also serve to remind us that life is somehow fair. Once the smile is out of the way and our mental state is taken care of we are able to actually feel sympathy. What most of us do is deny the Schadenfreude and go straight for the sympathy. This sympathy is of course not fully genuine, because it is coming from a repressed place. We do not feel Schadenfreude all of the time, but when we do, we must not repress it. We must let it live and examine it. In the end, its purpose is to allow us to feel grateful for our lives. Its outcome is that we actually feel more sympathy for ourselves and others.
( ” I’m sorry we don’t have fat free, dairy free, organic milk.” )
This is also the reason why we shouldn’t brag, boast or constantly look for pity. You can go ahead and throw a pity party, just remember to take me off the guest list. Those who brag constantly are the same people who throw a pity party whenever something goes wrong. This pity party is their shield from Schadenfreude. This person may not realize it, but they subconsciously know that many will smile slightly at their misfortunes; therefore they make sure to point out that others should feel sorry for them rather than do what comes naturally. This pity party serves as a mirror to project their own feelings of guilt and failures on to others. Pity is something that American culture is known for.
(Some poor souls fall victim to the pity party and show up)
There is actually no English word for Schadenfreude. In American culture, Schadenfreude is so repressed that we keep ourselves from learning who we truly are as human beings. This makes it extremely difficult to connect with others. This shameful tendency might actually bring us closer together. Schadenfreude is what makes the world feel fair. Those with low self-esteem experience this feeling more than others because they need more reassurance. But we all need reassurance, not just those with low self-esteem, because the fact is, life isn’t fair. When everyone is told to repress these “shameful” emotions, what they are taught to do inversely is to express false empathy.
(Look at that sincere empathy. Side note: Meerkat Manor is my cats favorite show)
We are so afraid to appear negative that we forget what it’s like to be human. The true meaning of positivity is not the absence of negativity, but optimism in spite of it. When imperfect beings do not accept their imperfections, they become robotic and defective in the process.