Schadenfreude is a trait that is intimately linked to human nature. The word comes from the German schaden (damage) + freude (joy). I so appreciate the concept of schadenfreude because it does such a good job of opening the door for me to learn and to help me understand this engrained feature in myself. Schadenfreude is the delightful joy found in seeing another person being in pain and hurting. It is an insightful German word for which I can’t find an adequate English equivalent. It is a concept we should pay close attention to in order to better understand human nature and ourselves. Schopenhauer said, “it is schadenfreude, a mischievous delight in the misfortunes of others, which remains the worst trait in human nature. It is a feeling which is closely akin to cruelty, and differs from it, to say the truth, only as theory from practice.” (19th Cent) Schadenfreude is a trait related to jealousy and envy but goes beyond both. E. D. Klemke pointed out that, “the ‘fearful envy’ excited in most men by the thought that someone else is genuinely happy shows how unhappy they really are. Whatever they pretend to others or them- selves.” (2000) Schadenfreude overlaps with the word gloating –—> a malicious satisfaction and excitement of our own achievements, especially at the expense of someone else.
Schadenfreude is the malefic glee we get when someone is punished, or enjoy the unhappiness that suffering causes another. It includes the human desire and the curiosity to delve into the lives of other people and to learn about other people’s hidden warts, agendas, missteps, and secrets. Schadenfreude correlates with busybody, taleteller, and being a gossiper. It frequently involves insidiously destroying the reputation of another by the spreading of canards. That is, schadenfreude includes cloak-and-dagger damage done to the good character of another for no other reason than to purposely hurt another. It is part of the perverted sense of being overjoyed from the misfortune of another, and then spreading the news of that misfortune. Schadenfreude is a display of demeaning and degrading our fellow humans. The scary thing for me is schadenfreude feelings and thoughts just pop into my head and sometimes it seems I have no control over them. However, in a fortunate sense being knowledgeable about schadenfreude helps me understand the times I am judgmental, critical, and jealous of someone else. Robert Berman said, “talk about a love/hate relationship. Officially we abhor disaster; we’re appalled that nature can burst dams and bring down passenger jets. Yet nothing sells more newspapers or draws higher TV ratings,” . . . “there is that maniacal, evil smile we must somehow keep from our face when telling about a tragic event is testimony to our secret love for the fury of nature. We cherish the impotence of humans, who value their lives above all else yet are powerless to secure them against Earths’ delirium. This madness seems so innate, it’s worth a look.” (1998)