Why Taking Pleasure In Others’ Misfortune Can Actually Be Good For Your Mental Health

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What are the positive aspects of schadenfreude? Can it benefit an individual in some ways? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.

Answer by Tiffany Watt Smith, Author of Schadenfreude: The Joy of Another’s Misfortune, on Quora:

Schadenfreude is that that jolt of pleasure we feel in other people’s misfortunes. Even when Schadenfreude feels a little bit guilty or bad, it feels good! It is a pleasure, first and foremost – and this reminds us that it does play an important role for us.

Schadenfreude is part of how we cope with inferiority or our own failures – seeing someone else fail makes us feel better and reminds us we’re not the only one. But Schadenfreude is also an important part of how we bond with each other in difficult situations – in fact, sometimes we invite people to feel Schadenfreude at our own expense, for instance, when we start a new job and tell an anecdote about some disaster which befell us on the way to work – we want people to laugh at our suffering so they see us as less of a threat.

In my research, I got particularly interested in how we use it to cope with the indignities of being lower down a hierarchy. For instance, I interviewed a prominent American academic who was laughing very hard when he told me this story. He had a new head of department who didn’t much like him, and then this new boss gave a talk and his zipper was undone! It was so silly, but it really gave this academic a feeling of defiance, a little bit of confidence in this difficult situation. In that sense it is valuable. So when we see Schadenfreude in protest movements or in water-cooler gossip, part of what we are witnessing is people reclaiming some of their power. Orwell said ‘every joke is a tiny revolution’.

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