The guilt of schadenfreude

Schadenfreude \ˈshä-dən-ˌfrȯi-də\ (noun, often capitalised) [German, from Schaden damage + Freude joy First Known Use: 1895]
1: enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others1

I like to think that I am a basically good person. I care about the wellbeing of my fellow man; I pray for health and safety for those I walk this Earth with; I wish for everyone a life of happiness and love. But every once in a while, a little bit of schadenfreude hits me out of the blue and I find myself entertaining a wry smile as I absorb the moment.

And that’s when the guilt and shame sets in. That’s when I realise that no matter how thoughtful and caring and “good” I try to be every day, I am human. And we humans are very complex creatures filled with all sorts of not-nice* emotions. And sometimes, no matter how hard we try to keep them at bay those not-nice things come out.

To be fair, I don’t experience these moments when someone is truly suffering or going through an enormously difficult time, it’s the silly little things that bring it on. And it’s not even necessarily directed toward someone I know personally.

It might come on when I hear someone didn’t get the job they interviewed for. Or maybe someone didn’t pass their drivers’ test. Or maybe someone didn’t succeed in something. It might even come on when I know someone got the worst haircut of their life or that they gained 10 pounds and can’t wear their favourite dress to the party.

I don’t feel these things with my close friends and family, it pops up in situations with people that I share a less friendly relationship with; people who’ve been cruel or competitive with me in the past; people that I am not actively friendly with. (So I guess the underlying negative feelings are already there!)

But the thing is, I’m not actually happy about these things. Well, I don’t think I am but obviously there’s something in me that takes a moment of joy when I should be jumping to instant empathy and sympathy—which I move onto directly after my little moment of schadenfreude.

Every day, I pray to God to help me be a better person. I ask for His guidance to show me how to be more kind and giving to others. And I really do try. I work really hard at finding the good in others and at holding only loving, positive views in my heart. But sometimes I fail—even when I’m trying so hard to succeed.

I know that I’m not the only one this happens to. And I know that it happens to loads of very good, loving, and kind people. But that doesn’t make me feel any better about it happening to me. I want to rise above that. I want to never think not-nice things about anyone, ever. But I am merely human and my emotions are as complex as I am.

So yeah, I woke up this morning and was struck by a bit of schadenfreude over someone I don’t even know. I then instantly felt guilty and ashamed of myself, and was soon able to feel empathy toward the person—and even said a wee prayer wishing better for them next time. (And there will be a next time and they will succeed and I will be happy for them!)

Really, I am basically a good person. It’s just that, like all humans, I am flawed. But I have a lot of life left in me and I will strive to be a better person. Still flawed, but better.

* I’m opting for “not-nice” instead of “bad” here because I think they’re normal emotions. Things like jealousy and anger are healthy emotions to a point and if we call them “bad” we risk making them taboo which could twist them into bad emotions. Though I do believe that some emotions (hate and spite, for example) are in the bad camp and are ones that we should (or at least I should) work to eradicate from our/my lives.

1Schadenfreude. (n.d.). Merriam-Webster.com. Retrieved August 29, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/schadenfreude

Join the conversation!