“The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” – General George S. Patton
This is quite possibly my favorite word, and I can’t even say “in the English language” because there is no English equivalent… which only heightens its appeal. While the feeling it represents is arguably one of the most detestable experienced by humankind, the word itself has the amazing ability to evoke so much. This one word explains why we are secretly happy when a young, hot celeb gains 70 pounds during pregnancy, why many waste countless hours watching train wreck reality TV, or why I am so easily entertained by Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog. As Mel Brooks said, “Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when YOU fall into an open manhole and die.”
Though admittedly hateful, it does seem morally justifiable when an individual or society feels that the suffering party deserved what was coming to him. This conjures up images of Bernie Madoff being led away in handcuffs, the career of Tiger Woods going down the drain after news broke of his “alleged” affairs, or Flanders having to sell off all his possessions in the third season of The Simpsons. One of my all-time favorite songs, Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” illustrates this form of Schadenfreude beautifully.
Abhorrent or justifiable, it appears that the feeling of schadenfreude is simply part of being human. It’s widely studied by social and evolutionary psychologists (like my hunky college professor, David Buss) and is a key component of Social Comparison Theory. Simplified, when people around us are suffering (particularly those we tend to envy), we feel better about ourselves. And when we feel better about ourselves, we are happier, more optimistic, and more productive. Given that it literally pays to be optimistic, it’s easy to see how the occasional dose of Schadenfreude may serve to benefit everyone.
In the end, it turns out we’re ALL haters.
(For those (nerds) who want to explore this further, I recommend The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature, available aquí.)
Originally posted 7/9/2013 mommyhasapottymouth.tumblr.com, the mouthful that was my former blog.