We all experience it – that little evil thrill of joy at the misfortune of others. There are television shows dedicated to it. Sporting events are thinly veiled plots to create it. We can’t get enough of witnessing the failures of others.
I, of the maiden name Krauss, suppose I should feel some ethnic pride in the fact that the word for this ugly bit of human nature is German:
The trouble with schadenfreude is its limited effectiveness as a mood elevator. It only lasts a moment and – pfffft – we’re back to our old level of “oh, well.”
Closely related to schadenfreude in its universality and unpleasantness is Envy. Envy comes from the same small black place in our hearts, but it is a long-acting pain-inflictor. If you’re wondering how my brain came to consider these things together, I’ll tell you.
Just a few days ago, we got news that the company for which my sister-in-law works (ahem, she’s the CFO and EVP) received a ratings increase by A.M. Best – a Very Big Deal in the industry. This would be the same sister-in-law who treated us to Avenue Q, featuring the song Schadenfreude, on Broadway a few years ago.
My first reaction to the news was to belittle myself for not having been as smart or worked as hard as dear Sister-in-law. My second reaction was to imagine how she must look at me, someone who has chosen to retire instead of fighting to climb a few rungs higher on the corporate ladder, with disdain – and a little glee.
Envy and Schadenfreude in the same neural electrical storm!
HOLD IT RIGHT THERE!!!
Here’s what’s wrong with all of this – starting with imagining my perceived “less-ness” as cause for my sister-in-law to experience schadenfreude at the mere thought of me:
When I’m envious or feel diminished because of someone else’s accomplishment or good fortune, it’s because I am making it all about me, when it should absolutely be about them!
Try as I might, I could not find accurate antonyms for schadenfreude or envy. I have, however, found an antidote for the one that causes self-inflicted pain: Don’t spend so much time in the dark parts of yourself that you can’t truly enjoy the light shining from others.
I am beyond fortunate to be surrounded by brilliant and generous and kind and funny friends and family. How foolish of me to envy them; they should envy me. Look who I get to hang out with!