When something bad happens to someone you dislike, do you feel a little glee inside? Maybe a lot of glee?
Or do you cheer when the villain in a movie or TV show gets what’s coming to them?
There is a German word for the feeling of joy we get from the suffering or misfortune of others: schadenfreude.
The other day, I wondered: is there an opposite of schadenfreude? There is, and it’s called freudenfreude. This is when you find joy in the success and happiness of others. (It’s an English word created from a German word where “freuden” means “joy.”)
Today’s episode is all about why we experience schadenfreude, the high cost of schadenfreude, how to find real joy in the happiness of others (freudenfreude), and why it’s good for us to do this.
Prefer just audio? Listen here.
Why Do We Find Joy in the Suffering of Others?
We might find joy in other people’s misery because of jealousy or envy.
For example, past clients of mine who wanted a fulfilling, committed relationship often felt ashamed for being jealous when their friends got engaged. Their feeling was, “Why them, and not me?”
I told them this should be evidence that people are still partnering in the world and that it could eventually happen for them. Instead of “Why them and not me?” I suggested they flip the script to, “Me next.”
Another reason we might find joy in the suffering of others is that, to a degree, it’s human nature. Look at reality television – most of those shows, like Survivor, celebrate people’s losses. So much of the time it’s about getting joy from someone’s failure, in someone not making it to the next round.
From a psychological point of view, schadenfreude is also a way to cope with vulnerability and insecurity. It allows us to avoid feeling sad about whatever it is we lack that someone else has.
Here’s an example: let’s say you are looking for a better job. Your friend gets hired at a rad new start-up with a fat expense account, and you find it hard to be happy for her. “Why her, and not me?” you think.
A week before she is to start, the start-up goes under. You might secretly feel a little happy…yet, her misfortune doesn’t bring you closer to getting your dream job. (Not to mention this isn’t a kind way of going through the world.)
The Cost of Schadenfreude
Schadenfreude is part of the human condition. If you don’t like a politician and they lose an election, part of you might be happy. But we want to avoid this in our actual relationships because it’s not just bad form, it’s actually bad for us.
A study involving college students showed that those who leaned more towards getting joy out of the pain or failing of others tended to be more depressed than students who naturally derived more joy from other people’s success or happiness.
Here’s my take: it isn’t free to revel in the pain or failure of someone else because you still experience those feelings. But when you’re joyful for someone else’s success, that joy is amplified, so it might behoove you to figure out how to cultivate this joy.
Inside the free guide, you’ll find more tips and ideas on how to do exactly that, so make sure to download it here.
Questions to Ask For Self-Awareness Around Schadenfreude
The desire for the people in your life to get what they want and be happy requires you to be in a frame of mind that believes there’s enough happiness to go around.
Be honest with yourself right now: when something good happens to someone else, do you have a tendency to feel jealous? Does your mind naturally go to, “Why them and not me? I want that, too”? Or does it go to, “If it can happen for them, it can happen for me”?
Or maybe you recognize that not everything relates to you. Maybe you can simply be happy for other people getting what they want in life. After all, it doesn’t cost us anything to create more freudenfreude, but schadenfreude is costly.
How Finding Real Joy in the Happiness of Others Can Change Your Life (Freudenfreude)
When we feel happy for others, it’s almost like this happiness becomes our own. We feel joyful for others, and our joyful feelings get amplified within us. There’s something really beautiful about learning to find joy in other people’s success.
If you are an empath, you naturally feel the feelings of others around you, and you probably already get joy from other people’s success.
But finding joy in other people’s happiness doesn’t come naturally for some people, so let’s talk about two intentional ways you can build this freudenfreude muscle.
Two Ways to Experience Freudenfreude (Joy in Other People’s Success)
#1: Become a Joy Spectator – Ask Specific Questions
Start with the people in your life who you really care about. Maybe that’s your partner, your family, or your close friends. Ask them specifically1, “What went great this week? Tell me about your wins this week.”
This is not to bypass bad experiences. This is a specific exercise to create new neural pathways or ways of thinking about other people by asking questions.
You can also say, “Tell me more about what went well,” “What are you joyful about right now?,” or, “What made you smile this week?”
Other questions you can ask include, “What’s going well in your life right now?,” “What are you proud of?,” and, “What’s the best thing that happened to you this week?”
Unless you’re a psychotherapist, you probably don’t have these conversations in your day-to-day life. The more we celebrate with others and the more interested we are in their good news, the more people will share it with us. Who doesn’t want that, right?
I came across this idea from a group of social scientists that I read about in The New York Times. Bragitudes involve expressing gratitude when someone else’s success or support leads to your own.
I am really big on this. I never forget what people do for me or delude myself into thinking I did it all on my own. I’m so grateful and vocal about that gratitude.
The example given in the NYT article is: your friend recommended a great accountant, and you’re saving more money thanks to this connection.
You say to your friend, “You know what? I actually have $X of money in the bank and I have to say, I’m so grateful you referred me to your accountant because they’ve done an amazing job and inspired me to save this money.”
Giving credit and gratitude to others and being thankful for the ways they’ve supported you is a great way to flex your freudenfreude muscle. It might feel strange at first, but the more you do it, the easier it gets, and soon you’ll start looking for the ways others support your success.
This is also a great way to overcome negativity bias, where we remember the negative things in life five times more readily than the positive things. We don’t have to work on remembering the bad things others have done to us, but it can be a heavy lift to remember the nice things they’ve done.
Make sure you download the guide for this episode because it contains more ideas and tips on cultivating freudenfreude in your life.
There’s something so positive about celebrating the wins, successes, and joys of the people in our life. A rising tide lifts all boats, as they say.
Feeling like you lose when someone else wins leads to an amplified experience of separateness. Building your freudenfreude muscle is a more humanitarian way of being in the world.
From an abundance point of view, something good happening to you can also be something good happening to me because I can feel the joy of that. Plus, it’s evidence that good things are happening in the world.
I’m curious about your experience with this. Are you willing to celebrate the joys, wins, and successes of others in your life? Do you already do this? Do you recognize anyone in your life who does this for you? Drop me a comment here or on Instagram @terricole and let me know your thoughts.
I hope that this adds more joy to your life, and as always, take care of you.