What We Can Learn from Schadenfreude

Source: http://www.sonima.com/meditation/schadenfreude/

In an age when compassion and positivity have become buzzwords and “feeling grateful” is a hashtag, not just a state of mind, there might be less tolerance than ever for our uglier, less generous emotions. We’re encouraged to embrace our anger, befriend our fear, and reframe our vulnerabilities as strengths—but experiencing a secret little thrill about someone else’s misfortune? That’s just shameful. It’s no surprise that our word for it comes directly from another language; schadenfreude is a concept we sunny, self-aggrandizing Americans don’t want to lay claim to.

Yet it’s also a common and normal human response, according to researchers. In a study at Princeton University, participants were connected to an electromyogram (which captures the electrical activity produced when we feel pleasure), and shown photographs of groups meant to elicit particular emotions, such as the elderly (pity) and rich professionals (envy). Then each set of images was paired with a positive, negative, or neutral event, and participants were asked how they felt about each pairing. The electrical activity showed that most of them experienced pleasure when observing the suffering of those they envied—even though not all of them admitted it.

From an evolutionary perspective, scientists theorize that schadenfreude could be a natural product of competition between rivals over limited resources. Certainly, it appears to be inbo…

What do you think?