My younger brother was the nicest guy one could ever meet. Everyone loved him. He was a good listener and after he heard what someone was up to, had a phrase that he always repeated. The phrase was, “I’m so happy for you, man.”
It could have been a new car, a new girlfriend, a new job or winning the lottery, his response was always the same, “I’m so happy for you, man.” The thing was, he was always happy with others’ success. He cheered for others, so others cheered for him. He was one of those rare people who did not suffer from Schadenfreude.
Schadenfreude is a complicated word that is simple to explain and a malady from which we all suffer. Schadenfreude is when we derive pleasure from the misfortunes of others. It’s when your buddy didn’t get the promotion and you tell him how sorry you are but your heart is bursting with joy at his disappointment. It’s when the Facebook IPO doesn’t go well and you can barely contain your happiness.
We all have it, a little secret glee in another’s troubles; some have it more than others. A component of Schadenfreude includes when we suffer quietly at the success of others. Gore Vidal put it best, when he said, “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” Which brings me to the Twitter IPO. Good for them. Whether they deserve the success or not, good for them.
Sometimes the fall from grace was deserved and Schadenfreude is justified. That’s a rare occurrence.
Who hasn’t read with too much interest the plight of lottery winners after they collect the dough. Some of us are just a little happier after the story of the lotto winner who then suffers from drug addiction, ill-behaved relatives and health problems. People Magazine usually features these lotto winners just to play on our sense of Schadenfreude.
Dictionaries have a hard time with the antonym for Schadenfreude because the emotion is so complex. One could be compassion, maybe. I don’t know what the opposite word for it is, but it couldn’t be more simple: If you want others to cheer for you, genuinely cheer for them. Like my brother so often repeated, “I’m so happy for you, man.” That includes all the new millionaires at Twitter.