Have you ever felt this unexplainable joy after learning that your brightest classmate flunked a test in which you did relatively well? That happy feeling that you did better than that classmate exemplifies schadenfreude.
I remember watching a short video of a guy touting, “It’s bitcoin mehn,” as he was about to enter his sleek car. Then, the next scene, which indicates a couple of years later, shows him riding a bicycle with a backpack, being laughed to scorn by his friend while he was shaking his head. The happiness felt by that friend at his misfortune over the bitcoin loss is another example of schadenfreude.
Schadenfreude (shaa·duhn·froy·duh) simply means, to take great joy in the pain and suffering of others. According to Trevor Noah, it is a German word that never got translated into another language. A combination of two contrasting words – joy and harm.
Contrary to envy, which hurts, schadenfreude is a feel-good or pleasurable state fueled by negative emotions and often driven by a desire for justice, rivalry, or aggression toward the sufferer. Therefore, people are more likely to experience schadenfreude when a negative occurrence happens to a seemingly “bad” person because it gives them some psychological justification for gloating over another person’s misery instead of deeming it morally wrong. Such misfortune seems like a punishment, thereby making the gloaters feel better about themselves and the world as they believe they’ve got justice. However, this malicious enjoyment derived from someone else’s woes occurs in cordial and non-cordial relationships, such as marriage, friendship, team, and politics, even when the problem affects the entire populace.
Although a school of thought believes that this type of emotion symbolizes selfishness that lacks social consciousness, which can lead to social vices, many researchers feel otherwise. Several studies have proven beyond doubt that it is human to feel happy over someone else’s misfortune sometimes. Touted as a physiological medical phenomenon, a brain scan proof revealed the release of oxytocin – a pleasure hormone – after seeing someone fail at pulling a stunt.
However, what sets this ugly side of human nature apart from jealousy, envy, or participatory gloating is that a third-party experiences schadenfreude. That is, the person experiencing the pleasure is not involved in the cause of harm, downfall, or misfortune of the sufferer.
In this month, February 2023, Nigeria is going to conduct the most defining election in its history. I have seen people laugh at politicians to scorn their gaff, missteps, and poor judgments. As much as it is human to do this, any deep thinker would know that the pleasure felt is simply a human nudge not to make the same mistake as the sufferer. So, how do we manage this pleasure-giving emotion over seeing or knowing about another person’s hurt or damage?
Managing our harm-joy emotions is a journey to becoming a better person ourselves. Interestingly, this harmless fun has its benefits if we genuinely want to look deep enough to explore it to our advantage.
Schadenfreude can be used positively as a learning tool with which one is taught lessons through other people’s experiences. Lessons learned in the bitcoin video of the guy who lost all his investments due to the crash include humility and carefulness regarding investments, as they are not foolproof. It would be fair to say pride and prejudice played a role in the feeling others had for his downfall; therefore, it would be wise to remain humble and vigilant in such circumstances.
Secondly, because schadenfreude makes us feel good and less inferior, it helps acknowledge that everyone fails. This benefit of feeling less flawed could give us a jolt of boldness or confidence in ourselves. Having learned from someone else’s mistake and taken necessary precautions, we can carefully launch out with courage without boasting.
Thirdly, one can improve on moral rigidity with a well-managed schadenfreude. Since this self-satisfaction experience is a natural human phenomenon, it is possible to feel a twinge of pleasure and a genuine concern or sympathy for the sufferer. Therefore, the ability to suppress a sudden desire to make fun of the sufferer and offer to help echoes an extraordinary capacity of an emotionally flexible person.
Also, this controversial emotion can promote critical thinking and self-evaluation, which play essential roles in emotional intelligence. Identifying the trait as habitual makes one consciously work on self to be a better person by asking deeply rooted questions that point to the causes and solutions.
Schadenfreude can be used as a teaching tool for vulnerability and being human. Being open to the extent of discussing one’s schadenfreude may encourage readers or listeners that they are not alone on the journey of being more generous through kindness by positively spinning what the feeling has to offer to one’s advantage.
Lastly, when you learn of someone’s downfall through a video, gist, or social media content, one of the best ways to tame your schadenfreude is to show empathy by not promoting, sharing, reposting, or telling other people about the sufferer’s woes. Schadenfreude goes both ways, scorning people backfires. Remember, what goes around comes around.
Olayinka Opaleye, a well-being specialist, writes from Lagos. Tel: 08100371304. Email: oopale[email protected] or follow her on LinkedIn: https://lnkd.in/efCmu87J