Schadenfreude is pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others. This word is taken from the German language. The literal English translation is “Harm-Joy”. It is the feeling of joy or pleasure when one sees another fail or suffer misfortune. Many people may not know the word for this feeling, but we have all felt it. It’s the little twinge of satisfaction that we feel when someone around us fails. It’s that tiny smile that forms on our face when someone falters or doesn’t succeed. It’s a horrible thing, but everyone has felt it.
Nowhere is schadenfreude more evident than in the character of Nelson Muntz in The Simpsons. His consummate “ha ha” whenever anyone fails, falls, falters or slips up is the essence of schadenfreude. He embodies what we’re all thinking and feeling. It’s a little funny when someone falls or when someone is upset because of a failure. We all feel it, but it’s horrible.
Schadenfreude has found its way into popular culture in more than just Nelson Muntz. It’s the subject of various cartoons and essays. It’s talked about in television programs and movies. It was even immortalized in a song in the Broadway musical Avenue Q! Schadenfreude is everywhere!
The reason I’m writing about schadenfreude today is because I’m annoyed with myself for feeling it when people I care about falter. It’s a horrible thing and I know I shouldn’t be taking pleasure in another’s misfortune, but I do. I secretly get a thrill from watching someone else fall and get hurt, or from hearing about a particularly epic failure (see my post on “Internet Fail Videos”). It’s bad and I know it’s bad, but I still do it. I’m not alone, and that should give me some solace. If I were to fall or fail, there would be hundreds of people around with that “Mona Lisa smile,” trying not to grin or laugh out loud. I just wish I could remove the feeling from my repertoire!