Some people calling it dissing, others will say they’re cutting someone down to size and for some it’s just plain open negative gossip, but schadenfreude (and in a way, “glückschmerz“) has never been more popular. It seems most of modern politics is pure schadenfreude. If you actually listen for it during your day you’ll not only hear it all over the place, you’ll also likely hear it coming from you.
If you feel competitive with a person or group that will be because you perceive that you share a goal and you feel only one of you can achieve that goal. Gazelles will either escape and live or the lion will eat and live but both are running after life. But there will be no feelings of schadenfreude for the gazelle and lion. If we’re in a healthy state of mind, a motivation to achieve doesn’t equate to a story about being happy that another person or group has lost.
It’s only through “higher thought” that people are now using words to construct this unhealthy pleasure for themselves even when they have caught no gazelle. All they need now is a story about another lion not getting a gazelle. There are now people who completely forgo feeding their own souls in order to invest their lives in trying to steal or poison other people’s achievements.
It’s comforting to think of these people as the horrible dark-minded haters that are doomed to lives of blind on-line trolling, but we don’t get healthier by pointing fingers we get healthier by functioning differently. So rather than think of all of the places you’ve witnessed schadenfreude try thinking of the times you’ve executed it.
Who do you feel competitive with? A person? A company? A nation? A religion? A political party? How does that influence where you go, what you do, what you want, what you say, what you wear and who you act like? Because even if you win every one of those little competitions they will still have been dictated by the other person and your lowest nature.
Freedom is not when we are living a life of reaction it’s when we live a life of action. The great sculptor does not set out to create the greatest sculpture ever, they are instead fully invested in their relationship with the material and the result then flows through them in unimpeded brilliance. Even then, the true artist has little interest in admiring what’s done. Completion is what creates the opportunity for further creativity, not a platform for comparison.
Analysis, comparison and judgment are all required for schadenfreude. These are all egocentric functions. It doesn’t matter if you’re happy that someone got dumped or sad that someone else found love, if you’re invested in negativity then that is what you’re living, experiencing and putting into the world. You could be creating something wonderful but instead you are creating negativity. You aren’t being positive by being negative about something you see as negative.
It’s easy with some harsh analysis, comparisons and judgments to create others so different that we can abide by and even cheer for their suffering. But these judgments are only layers of thought. There is no real separation. We really are all in this together. Yes, we will clash sometimes by nature, just as the ocean crashes at the shore. But that crashing is not accompanied by a story of conquest and defeat and nor should our lives.
Forget about what you think about others and focus on living your life instead. If you leave all of those agonised judgments behind you’ll be surprised by how many rewarding experiences you can have.
Go be forgiving. Go create a great day for you to live inside. It’s far more in your control than you realise.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.