Manoj was experiencing tremendous excileration and joy when he heard the news that five of the flats owned by his friend Ramesh are getting forcibly demolished by corporation following a court order.

Manoj and Ramesh were classmates besides being neighbors. They later parted ways.Manoj joined a Nationalized Bank as Teller and Ramesh took off to Dubai. Ramesh then emerged as a successful businessman and became prosperous beyond imagination. He was amassing wealth from his elevator business. He purchased 2 flats in Dubai and 5 flats in Kochi .He soon became an eyesore for many of his old chums. And now this news that those five flats in one complex is getting demolished. Manoj was wondering himself why he was feeling effervescing on an otherwise sad news like this. To some extend he felt ashamed of himself. Why do I derive a pleasure of this kind?

We human beings do get into this kind of joy in adversities happening to others with whom we are subconsciously trying to relate and compare ourselves. “People respect unhappiness and find it especially hard to forgive success” says Francoise Sagan.

Let us go into one more example. The news broke out that Scaria’s son got very high marks in SSLC. A whopping 80% .Scaria and family was jubilant and was virtually dancing with joy. The dancing however did not last long. Soon there was another upsetting story floating that Scaria’s friend Ajai’s son got actually 85% marks in the same examination. Scaria’s happy occasion suddenly turned into a gloomy affair. Scaria couldn’t imagine of all the people Ajai’s son would steal the show with 85%! So despite having got very high marks for his own son he feels sad that his friend’s son got better. Scaria would be happy if in future in any examination should Ajai’s boy scores less or fail or he wouldn’t get admission into any reputed college. Lizette Woodworth Reese says “To hear that your neighbor was worse off than yourself was not an altogether unpleasant experience”.

Do we get any time into this kind of a syndrome of negativity that we begin to enjoy the down fall, adversities or failures of people? We may not readily agree that we do sometimes get into such negative thinking. This phenomenon is known as Schadenfreude

What actually is Schadenfreude?

Schadenfreude is simply the pleasure arising in our mind when we witness the misfortunes and gloom of others. This word is derived from German and it literally means ‘enjoy when others are harmed.’ It is the feeling of joy or pleasure at the adversities suffered by another known person for your own reasons. “delighting in others’ misfortune “is infact an old affair.

Schadenfreude (root words “harm” and “joy”) is something we all feel, even if we don’t like to admit it, says social psychologist Richard Smith. This kind of pleasure and satisfaction comes in varying degrees. The commonest occurrence is when someone about whom we are jealous, for some reason comes into trouble or loss.

There is Japanese saying “The misfortunes of others taste like honey”. But this happens when you are yellow with jealousy and envy beyond limit.

In English we have a word of similar meaning – gloating, which means dwell upon one’s own success or another’s misfortune with smugness or malignant pleasure. Or to observe or think about something with triumphant and often malicious satisfaction, gratification, or delight. This may not tantamount to anything that negative as Schadenfreude and the element of malice may be absent. In fact the English would like to stand on a high pedestal and say ‘we do never have such feelings in English hearts and the evidence that of is that we have no such word in our dictionary’.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer describes schadenfreude as the most evil sin of human feeling. He used to say “To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is diabolic” Harold S. Kushner says that this word refers to the embarrassing reaction of relief we feel when something bad happens to someone else and not me. “we don’t wish our friends to fall sick, but they can’t help feeling an embarrassing spasm of gratitude that sickness happened to someone else”.

Scientific studies

Scientific studies of schadenfreude is mostly based on social comparison theory. That is we as humans tend to compare ourselves with others all the time. When a colleague gets into trouble you derive a secret joy. When my competitor in business is turned pauper I look better to myself. A major finding in such researchers is the conclusions that people with lower self-esteem are more likely to feel jubilant in other’s fall rather than people with a high degree of self-esteem.

fMRI look into brain

We can actually measure empathy, by watching which brain centers are stimulated when subjects inside an fMRI observe someone experiencing physical pain. In ancient Greece it was a public event to watch the bad guys getting devoured by lions. When the villains those caused Bombay blast was sentenced to death many must have derived tremendous pleasure. fMRI studies on the brains of those watching bloodshed on others reveal that it is men who feel better than women, watching the evil people suffer.

The arguments that the feeling of joy at the adversities of others, doesn’t exist and it is all fiction etc are not true. It’s very real, we all, if we care to admit, must have experienced it at some point in our life.

So, why do we feel schadenfreude?

Self-interest is a powerful and prime motive for humans. If there is something to gain from the adversities of others we naturally feel good. One person’s misfortune could become a boon for another. There is a saying in Malayalam that the green leaves feel happy when the yellow ones fall.

So we are all set out for some kind of a competition even when the goal posts are not clearly defined.

Why is this? Beneath our exhibition of confidence lies a murky shadow of feeling of inadequacy and insecurity. We know we are vulnerable. It is very disturbing to watch someone who is enterprising and successful.

If others get banged and thank God we are not, we are at heart taking a breath and saying- I am happy. But as civilized people we do not want to own this and we actually try to curb this kind of feelings.

He deserves that

A central feature of pleasure-in-others’-misfortune is the belief that the other person deserves it. Imagine you are watching a miscreant snatching a gold chain from the neck of an old lady and is racing fast on a bike. Now if he slips somewhere and there is an accident our anger turns into pleasure. Similarly when a long-time corrupt official is nabbed by CBI we feel happy. We say he deserves that.

When Bin Laden was executed, half the globe rejoiced because such an execution seemed well-deserved, since many had mentally pictured him as an embodiment of evil.

Sadism?

Sadism is distinct from schadenfreude. In Sadism we take part and get emotionally involved in the crime even when the victim is innocent and enjoy that persecution for no sane reason. Sadism is the result of a deep seated malady. Schadenfreude is definitely not that.

Hormone effect

Scientists have found out that the hormone Oxytocin may be involved in the making of schadenfreude. When participants in a game were pitted against a player whom they considered atrocious and arrogant, an intake of oxytocin through the nose pumped up their feelings of outright joy when this player finally lost the game.

How this came in our DNA

May be when our fore fathers lived by hunting animals the survival instinct came into being. A successful hunter needed to have an ambitious drive to succeed where others fail, so that his DNA would prevail. The weaklings were left to their own fate and often the successful enjoyed the misfortunes of the weak and vulnerable.

These genes have got transcended down the chain to babies. We today scoff at others out of satisfaction with our own power of superiority and vitality wishing that others had less of it.

Mudita is the answer

The Buddhist concept of Mudita, “sympathetic joy” or “happiness in another’s good fortune,” is cited as an example of the opposite of schadenfreude. In some of the Singapore schools there is a good practice among parents and teachers prompting children to carry gifts to other children when they achieve something like when they sing well or win a game. This starts the train of positive thoughts in the young minds of the donor to actually enjoy when good things happen to others. They also encourage kids to celebrate events like birthday etc and partake fully well in their joy. This enables to think always for the better of their friends rather than feeling insecure while watching others doing well. Studies reveal that the tendency for Schadenfreude is seen at very young age in children and it needs to be nipped then and there. Let our new generation grow with abundant love, empathy and care for others always feeling happy when something good happens to the one standing next to them.

 


About the Author

Jose Vazhuthanapilly, BSc., LLB, DBM, CAIIB Retired in 2008 as AGM from State Bank of India. He had worked as a visiting faculty in the Bank’s Staff Training Centers for 5 years. He is a writer with 20 books to his credit including books on self-help / psychology. He resides in Ernakulam, Kochi. He is active also in social service. He can be contacted at josevazhuthanapilly@gmail.com

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Jose VazhuthanapillyBSc., LLB, DBM, CAIIB Retired in 2008 as AGM from State Bank of India. He had worked as a visiting faculty in the Bank’s Staff Training Centers for 5 years. He is a writer with 22 books to his credit including books on self-help/ psychology. He resides in Ernakulam, Kochi. He is active also in social service. He can be contacted at josevazhuthanapilly@gmail.com

Bestsellers

  • Prasangakarkkulla Kadhakal (St. Paul’s Books, Ernakulam)
  • EQ – Vyakti Jeevitham Mikavuttathakkam (Sophia Books, Calicut)
  • Atma Viswasathinte Karuthu Nedam (Sophia Books, Calicut)
  • Mano Sankharshangale Keezhadakkan Chila Prayogika Margangal (Media House, Calicut)
  • Vijayam Ningalude Ullil Thanneyanu (Vimala Books)
  • Fulton Sheeninte Jeevitham (Carmel International Publishing House)
  • Matti Varakkam Jeevitham ( Jeevan Books)
  • Vivaham Kootti Vilakkam (Media House)
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