Funny word "Schadenfreude"

Dear Bloggers,

Tonight I was watching the Olympic Games and laughed my head off when one of the sportsmen landed pretty wrong on the floor but I have to admit it looked pretty funny. I was really enjoying this guys mishap and realized that this is nasty to have fun about something I could not do myself not even half of it.

Schadenfreude is a German word which is often used as a loanword in English. It means ‘pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.’ Sounds bad, huh? Almost the kind of thing you’d associate with Hitler. Sounds immoral , and heartless.

Funny thing is, it’s everywhere – and we enjoy it.

It seems bad to enjoy the misfortune of others. A common, moral, if not even a perspective would be to help those in need. It seems wrong to allow a person to drown even if our own rights are lesser. Like in the Violinist thought experiment, it would seem wrong to abandon the Violinist even if you had to spend months chained to him. It is ,in our nature, moral and an instinct, to help others. We feel guilty if we don’t (for most folks, anyway.)

However, what I realized is that in every form of entertainment available we all sort of partake in enjoying the feeling of schadenfreude. For instance, take your usual children’s TV programmes, like iCarly (courtesy of my daughters.) In that show, one constant gag (I use gag to show its mediocrity and repetitiveness) is the technician of the show, Freddy, being beaten up and bullied in general by his ‘friend’ Sam. Judging from the…strategic placements of laugh tracks, I assume this must be funny. In one episode he gets reprimanded by the principal, loses his entire locker, has the wall destroyed by Sam’s driving and ,to add insult to injury, loses $200 to the girl. Isn’t that a tad..over the top?

But then this was where I realized that this was actually humorous.

Are we, as sources suggest, all people with low self-esteem who enjoy seeing others fail so we feel better about ourselves? Or are we just happy to see the bad fall? Could someone else’s horrible misfortune possibly be because he or she was ‘bad’ at all? Not really. When you think about it, the feeling of schadenfreude,in this case, would be the derived from the result and not from the process.

What we know is that if the person has bad luck. But whether we enjoy it or not is dependent on what happens afterwards. misfortune often leads to the sad picture of seeing this person fail and even if someone falls on his face, we will find it a sad story. It is a kind of adreneline rush and a lot of disbelief when you see them crash and yes even these pictures might be pretty horrifying. Somehow we want to see this epic ending for ourselves, without a tinge of regret whatsoever. But if this were to happen to a random innocent person it is all of sudden not so funny. Strange isn’t it? How different we can react on these situations. Still we can laugh sometimes about these people making silly mishaps. For example when they mess up their hair by colouring it purple.

Schadenfreude, then, isn’t derived from knowing that others have gone through misfortune and bad luck, but rather, derived from the result of said luck, and also, the conditions surrounding the victim.

And as a result, we all are conditioned – from the very start – to find these events to be entertaining. It isn’t something that is forced onto our minds – it is a feeling, like all the others, that we had in the first place. So we come to the conclusion that -like it or not- we all do enjoy the feeling of schadenfreude. Why the feeling of Schadenfreude exists, would be yet another story.

The Old Sailor,


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