Why do people laugh and feel pleasure at other people’s pain and misfortune?
The Wall Street Journal (20 August 2013) reviews the book, The Joy of Pain, on this topic.
Schadenfreude is the German word for feeling pleasure at the calamity of others.
And we see people laugh, point, and otherwise gloat when others are hurting physically, emotionally, financially, and so on.
When they fail and you succeed, you feel strong, powerful, self-confidant, and that you were right–and they were wrong!
Feelings of pleasure at other people’s pain is partially evolutionary–survival of the fittest.
It is also a function of our personal greed and competitiveness–where we measure ourselves not by how well we are doing, but rather relative to how others around us are faring.
So for example, we may be rich and have everything we need, but if someone else has even a little more than us, we still are left feeling lacking inside.
Thus, we envy others’ good fortune and take pleasure in their misfortune.
In a sense, our success is only complete when we feel that we have surpassed everyone else, like in a sport competition–there is only one ultimate winner and world champion.
So when we see the competition stumble, falter, and go down, our hands go up with the stroke of the win!
Anyway, we deserve to win and they deserve to lose–so justice is served and that makes us feel just dandy.
How about a different way–we work together to expand the living standard for all, and we feel genuinely glad for others’ success and real empathy for their pain, and they too for us–and we go beyond our pure humanity to something more angelic. 😉
(Source Photo: here with attribution for Lukas Vermeer)