Why do your friends what to see you fail and what is schadenfreude?
Unfortunately, there is something in us that makes it hard for us to support each other
There are many times in your life where you have important decisions to make and it can be integral to get good advice and motivation from people that know you well. Unfortunately, there is something in us that makes it hard for us to support each other and the Germans have a name for it, they call it ‘schadenfreude’. The word derives from Schaden which means damage/harm and Freude which mean joy. It refers to the joy that is attained from the someone’s misfortune. This phenomenon can even be traced back to the days of ancient Rome where the audiences of the gladiator arena’s would take pleasure from watching their suffering and consider it as a form of entertainment.
The modern version of schadenfreude that we experience takes on a different form that lies slightly under our radars and is often not apparent to us until it’s too late. I have become aware that the personal traits that can help counteract such opposition are aligned with those of social psychopaths that don’t care about what others think of them which allows them to forge their path forward against the odds. So what about those of us that do have empathy and don’t want to lose our soul. Well, I found that being aware of this phenomenon in social interactions is the first step, and believe me it’s everywhere.
It feels like there is a common theme running through a lot of our media that you are not doing well unless others are more unfortunate than you. This doesn’t just apply to material things it also applies to mental ability, relationships and personal goals. An example of this could be that If you were to mention to a friend that you have started a diet, automatically there is a high likelihood that they will be thinking “Should I be doing the same, am I a little bit bigger than I should be and if they lose too much weight I will be the fat friend”. A good friend would be able to set these thoughts aside and be supportive of the move and assist in any way that they could while keeping their own feelings on the subject to themselves. It does feel like this aspect of our culture is rather counterproductive to the progress of our species, that in order to move forward there must be someone either being left in your wake or actively moving backwards.
I felt this theme in the education system, where they enforced a method of succeeding that compared individuals to each other and some thrived and others felt defeated. I rather liked the way my Little Athletics Association went about competition, they were about getting you to achieve your personal best. It didn’t matter how good you were or how good you thought you were it was about achieving the best that you can do. I also found that we took pleasure in the personal goals of those that had less ability than us, that when they achieved their goals it was a sign that we could too and we always improved as a group. Even though I understood this at a young age it felt hard to apply this to the rest of my life.
In the Hip Hop scene in the USA, schadenfreude is alive and well. It comes in the form of others admiring Artists success. This admiration is referred to as ‘hating’ on someone and the more haters you have the better you are at what you do. This is an interesting way of looking at the situation. There is a theme of consumerism where it is important to outshine others to prove that you are better, it’s almost like a competition of sorts.
So, how can I make a difference in my own life? When I hear that a friend does well, I make a real effort to bask in their glory and actively celebrate their performance while not expecting them to do the same in return. So how do you attract people that can do the same for you? Well, I don’t think that's the right question to ask… I think it is important that you follow your own journey, understand yourself and your abilities and take pleasure in reaching your goals quietly. Why do I say quietly? Well, there has been some research done on this topic and the part of the brain which makes us feel accomplishment releases … whenever we tell people our goals, which if done too much can make us feel like we have already accomplished them. You can see how this can be very counterproductive to something that is extremely important in our lives. There is a great Ted Talk on this by Derek Sivers that really hits on this and will make you think and a great way to finish off the article.