Schadenfreude is defined as the feeling of getting a little happy about the fact that somebody else besides you is having a bit of a hard time in life. Here is the thing about us as human beings. We have the ability to empathise, sympathise and be compassionate about situations that our friends and other people go through in our lives. While that is the case, with the exception of a very few people, most people fall under the category of ‘what is happening to her is so terrible, but I should thank my lucky stars I am not the one going through it.’
This is something that no one is willing to talk about because it would make you seem like you get off from other people’s problems – and that is not the case at all. No one is willing to come out and say that they feel comforted by the fact that when they look at their lives in relation to whatever situation is facing them at the time that they are relatively better off than so and so and things could be worse but they aren’t.
To put such a fancy word to this feeling is what the English language does best. As human beings we are wired to compare. We cannot help it. Comparing your life to somebody else’s life doesn’t mean you want their life, it means you want to see how far yours is going in relation to those around you. Granted, this is not a good gauge to use to fuel your life to be what you want it to be.
Some argue that comparing their lives to those of the people around them fuels their determination to work harder if the people around them are more successful than they are.
At the end of the day there is no right or wrong formula to live life.
It does though become a problem when you use schadenfreude to mock or belittle the lives of others. When all is said and done we all have our fair share of challenges in life that give us a kick and knock us flat. It does not mean that when a friend tells you about his/her challenges that you now have to be a little happy about the fact that they have bigger problems than you do. You don’t get to gloat that your problems seem to pale in comparison to your friend’s problems.
Can any good ever come from the feeling of schadenfreude? The answer is only if it will make you grateful for your own life and in so doing making you a better person by striving to make the most of what you have. It DOES NOT, however, give you the right to be happy that somebody else is having a hard time in life. It should though give you reflection to be grateful for the little things in your life, like the fact that you have food to eat, to the fact that you have a place to sleep, you have supportive friends and family, etc.
It should NEVER be at the expense of anybody else. Remember that at the end of the day challenges befall everyone. You are not immune to them; neither are your friends and your neighbours.
What schadenfreude should teach us is that it is never okay to be glad that your life is ‘better’ than those of the people around you. When you feel that your problems are miniscule compared to those of your friends and it makes you feel better about your problems, pause and mull over why you are feeling this way about people you profess to care about.
Instead offer a helping hand where you can to alleviate the problems of your friends. Be there for them and help them through it, but never ever gloat that your problems seem less in comparison. Other people could easily view your problems as more in comparison to theirs.
When all is said and done challenges we all face could never be weighted equally. What seems catastrophic to you may be mild to somebody else who is used to worse than what you are facing. Maturity comes in understanding that we all face problems of different scales and magnitudes. Maturity comes with understanding that as individuals we all see our problems differently. Someone from the outside looking in could think your problems are quite the quagmire and you could think they are just a stepping stone to something bigger and better.
Schadenfreude, admittedly, is something that we all, at one point in time or another are guilty of. Just a little. Admitting this and working towards being more empathetic will make you a better human being. Having the knowledge that challenges are there to mould us into better beings is what ultimately gives schadenfreude less power.
Don’t allow yourself to be a little happy that other people are going through problems that seem much more than yours in scale. Remember that their challenges will mould them into better people. They will learn more about themselves and how they handle situations.
When the schadenfreude bug creeps in, kick it to the curb. You are bigger and better than that, not so? Best believe!