The Truth About Schadenfreude

Schadenfreude: Satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.

Schadenfreude (pronounced shahd-n-froi-duh) is a universal human emotion, even if the Germans are the only ones willing to admit it.

There’s nothing wrong with taking delight in other people’s misery. Without sadness as a barometer, how would we know we’re truly happy? But there are times when reveling in someone else’s bad luck is in questionable taste.

Here’s a quick guide for determining whether shadenfreude is appropriate.

When it’s justified:

1. If the person experiencing misfortune is rich. Rich people don’t deserve your pity. Whatever happens, their insurance will cover it.

2. If the person in question killed lots of innocent people. Or alternately, if he/she was mean to you in high school. Or cut you off in traffic. Payback’s a bitch.

3. If the misfortune involved slippage on a banana peel or on some other traction-undermining substance. Pratfalls are just good fun, I don’t care who you are.

When it isn’t justified:

1. When there’s more than an ounce of blood involved. The hospital is no place for schadenfreude.

2. If you were personally the cause of the misfortune. Feeling a twinge of satisfaction when some rich guy’s car gets stolen is natural, but if you’re feeling smug while cruising around in a boosted Porsche…not cool, bandit. Unless you eventually donate it to charity. Then you’re like Robin Hood.

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