Wisdom//

If You Feel Happy When Your Friends Feel Bad, You’re Actually Not Alone

Here’s why those surprising feelings are popping up – and how to master them.

Juj Winn/Getty Images
Juj Winn/Getty Images

We feel Schadenfreude  at painful surprises, or when we think we might win. We feel it when we see someone who deserves their comeuppance, and when smug people suffer. We feel it toward our siblings, and sometimes even strangers let us feel it on their behalf.

But few things elicit such guilty spasms of delicious Schaden- freude as the disappointments of our most successful friends.

It’s hard to imagine anyone gloating when a close friend meets catastrophe — a bereavement, a messy divorce, a child’s illness. But at some point or another, most of us have experienced a tiny, guilty spasm of delight when something a friend has been showing off about has gone wrong. Their glamorous,  freshly tiled bathroom leaves you feeling instantly inadequate. Until, that is, you notice their husband’s special deodorant to counteract excessive sweating. Or they insist on demonstrating how their new blender, with the 3.0-horsepower motor and five variable-speed settings, BPA-free touchpad interface and illuminated LCD screen, makes the perfect fish stock. And forget to put the lid on properly. When their new car makes spooky groans, or their cashmere jumper is being snacked on by moths. When they’re super-cool and take their kids off to a music festival (“No big deal!” “It’ll be fun!”), and then come back ashen-faced and looking as if they’ve  been fighting at the Somme. Or their cat, toward whom they lavish attention befitting a despot leader of a small country, rejects their lap for yours. All of these relatively inconsequential misfortunes are salvations for you.

Of course, of course,  you want the bathroom and the blender, the car, the cashmere and the cat. Yes, you too want to be the sort of person who goes to music festivals with your kids. We envy in others what we desire for ourselves, and the life we imagine is, by rights, ours (“envy pits potter against potter” wrote Aristotle). The intense glee of Schadenfreude   is a momentary compensation for everything they have that we lack. And it leaves us that bit more sprightly as a result.

Excerpted from the book SCHADENFREUDE by Tiffany Watt Smith. Copyright © 2018 by Tiffany Watt Smith. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

Why do I feel sorry for my abuser?

by Vivian McGrath
Community//

Are You Too Hard on Yourself? The Essential Guide to Increasing Self-Compassion

by Lisa Abramson

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.