Schadenfreude is joy or self-satisfaction at someone else’s misfortune. This is a loanword from German that has no direct translation in English. The following are illustrative examples of schadenfreude.
Schadenfreude can occur when an individual is in a highly competitive frame of mind. For example, a hockey player who feels a short sense of delight when the opposing team's goalie is injured. This may be a transitory feeling that progresses to sympathy, particularly if the injury is serious.
Zero-sum GameA zero-sum game is a competitive situation with fixed rewards such that one individual's failure benefits all other competitors. This gives a rational basis for schadenfreude as someone's failure may benefit you. It is common for people to view things as zero-sum games that aren't inherently zero-sum. For example, a restaurant owner may view the bankruptcy of a neighboring restaurant with happiness at the prospect of more business. However, the loss of the competitor may make the neighborhood less lively resulting in a decline in business.
RivalrySchadenfreude is common amongst rivals who may enjoy each others failures. For example, a manager locked in a bitter political battle with a peer may be happy if that peer suddenly faces some misfortune. Again, this may be a short lived emotion that transitions to a sense of empathy if the misfortune is significant.
To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is diabolic.Envy is at the root of much schadenfreude as individuals commonly evaluate themselves in relation to others. As such, failure of someone you envy can inflate your own sense of status or self-satisfaction. This is widely viewed as a negative emotion and a poor means of building self-esteem. For example, an individual who envies celebrities who delights in their misfortunes in the news is dwelling in negative emotions and gaining self-esteem in a way that doesn't lead to personal improvement or self-fulfillment.
~ Arthur Schopenhauer
JusticeSchadenfreude is often tied to a sense of justice and delight that someone gets what "they deserve." For example, an individual who persecutes "wrong ideas" in social media who experiences great joy when others agree and the target is widely attacked and humiliated. As such, schadenfreude is associated with self-righteousness and moral smugness.
Fair-Weather FriendA fair-weather friend is an individual who is only interest in social relationships that produce good times and quickly disengage if a friend experiences hardship. In the worst case, such individuals will enjoy the hardship of friends out of a sense of better-you-than-me.
NarcissismNarcissism is excessive and shallow self-admiration and a lack of empathy for others. Where most people may have a sense of shame at experiencing schadenfreude, a narcissist is likely to be shameless about it. As such, they may openly express their joy at the failures and misfortune of others.
Tall Poppy SyndromeTall poppy syndrome is a culture that resents high status individuals such that they are attacked and harshly criticized. This may result in schadenfreude when a high status individual experiences a misfortune.
Roman HolidayRoman holiday is a metaphor for recreation and entertainment based on schadenfreude. The metaphor relates to the gladiator events held on holidays in ancient Rome that featured fights to the death.
No, but I approve it!Dark humor is humor based on a serious, painful, taboo or morbid topic. Humor is always based on either the absurd or the dark. As such, schadenfreude is a common theme of humor.
~ Ebenezer Rockwood Hoar on being asked whether he would go to the funeral of a man he intensely disliked. This quote is often changed and then misattributed to Mark Twain.
GloatingGloating that is aimed at humiliating the defeated is a type of schadenfreude. In ancient Greece, this behavior was known as hubris and was thought to be punished by the goddess Nemesis.
NotesSchadenfreude is widely seen as a negative emotion that may be relatively harmless if it quickly progresses to empathy. It is a strength of character to be genuinely happy for others to succeed and to feel sorry for their misfortune. Dark humor is a unique variation of schadenfreude that may have value as a way of dealing with the stark realities of the human condition.
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