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Have You Ever Felt Schadenfreude?

Updated on January 20, 2016
Stiletto-heel shoes
Stiletto-heel shoes | Source

Have You Ever Felt Schadenfreude?

Just in case you are asking, “What the devil is Schadenfreude?” let me start with a story:

A lovely-looking, fashionable woman was in town on a shopping trip. Her day began when she found the most perfect stiletto shoes in the first shop she visited.

Then she found a beautiful dressy outfit in her size on sale in the second store.

In the third store, all accessories had just been reduced by 50 percent. She chose a fabulous designer handbag when suddenly, her mobile phone rang.

It was a call from a woman doctor notifying her that her husband had just been involved in a terrible automobile accident and had been brought to the hospital. He was in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit.

The wife told the doctor to inform her husband that she would be there as soon as possible.

As she ended the phone call, she realized she was leaving what appeared to be her best day ever in the boutiques and shops. So she decided to visit just a few more stores before heading to the hospital.

She ended up shopping the rest of the morning and finished her buying expedition with a cup of coffee and a mocha-flavored chocolate chip cookie, compliments of the last shop she visited. She was jubilant. Then she remembered her husband in the ICU. Feeling somewhat guilty, she drove quickly to the hospital.

Silly sign at hospital
Silly sign at hospital | Source

She found the woman doctor in the corridor outside her husband's room, and asked about his condition.

The doctor glared at her and shouted, "You went ahead and finished your shopping trip, didn't you!? I hope you are proud of yourself! While you were out gallivanting for the past four hours enjoying yourself in town, your husband has been lying unconscious in the Intensive Care Unit!

“It's just as well you went ahead and finished your shopping, because it will more than likely be the last shopping trip you ever take! For the rest of his life, your husband will require round-the-clock care. And he will now be your career!"

The wife, overcome with guilt, broke down and began crying hysterically.

The woman doctor chuckled and said, "I'm just messing with you, my dear. He's dead.

Now … show me what you bought!"

Stan Laurel 1890-1965 and Oliver Hardy 1892-1957
Stan Laurel 1890-1965 and Oliver Hardy 1892-1957 | Source

I confess that I started to laugh when I first heard that joke and then I began to wonder. Why do we laugh so often when someone is hurt or in pain? Why does another person's pain sometimes create laughter?

Remember Laurel and Hardy from the their black and white short films? Oliver Hardy, the plump fellow, was always putting Stan Laurel, his slender sidekick, in jeopardy.

When Laurel fell off a ladder, we laughed. When Oliver hit his thumb with a hammer, we laughed. When a comedian gets hit in the face with a cream pie, we laugh. Obviously, pain can make us laugh. If it is not happening to us.

Check out this YouTube video of penguins who may be indulging in Schadenfreude:

The Schadenfreude Test

Have you ever been guilty of Schadenfreude? Take this exclusive, easy-peasy Schadenfreude Test and then I’ll explain:

1- I often laughed at the pain that Laurel and Hardy inflicted on each other in their films.

2- I don’t remember Laurel and Hardy but I did laugh when one of the Three Stooges poked the other in the eye in their movies.

3- As a child, I laughed at Punch and Judy shows when one puppet hit the other over the head.

4- Someone (who appears able-bodied) slipping and falling on the ice or a banana peel in a movie would probably elicit at least a chuckle or two from me.

Answer

Did you answer 'yes' to any or all of the situations just mentioned? Then you are guilty of Schadenfreude. That is a German word which means the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

Ancient Greek philosophers knew this and explained the possibility that when we laugh, we feel superior to the object of our derision. It was Aesop who said: “The unhappy derive comfort from the misfortunes of others.”

What do you think? Do we laugh at someone else’s pain because it makes us feel superior?

Or because we are happy the misfortune is not happening to us? Just wonderin’.


© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. 2015. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So."

Comments for Have You Ever Felt Schadenfreude?

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    • profile image

      Sherry 16 months ago

      Thank you for your kind words.

    • Lady_E profile image

      Elena 16 months ago from London, UK

      Thought provoking read and very interesting. Thanks

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 18 months ago from South Africa

    • Thelma Alberts profile image

      Thelma Alberts 18 months ago from Germany

      OMG! So sorry to hear the death of your mother. She was one of my favorite writers here in Hubpages. She had made me laugh often times besides that I learned a lot from her. She will be remembered. Condolence to you and your family. She will be watching over us now in heaven. Rest in Peace drbj!

    • wordscribe43 profile image

      Elsie Nelson 18 months ago from Pacific Northwest, USA

      I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. She is highly respected in this community and we are all grieving her passing. She made a tremendous impact upon so many of us. Please know we are thinking about you now.

      She will be missed here... And everywhere she tread.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 18 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I am so sorry for your loss. My condolences to all of your family. Your mother was very witty and wrote great hubs. She left a deep impression on her followers.

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 18 months ago from California Gold Country

      Yes, She was a brilliant and witty writer.

      So sorry to hear of your loss. I'm sure it is deeply painful for you and the rest of her family and friends. Even those of us who never met her can feel that there is an empty spot in our experience here.

      I hope her writings will remain here, or be otherwise made public. Her insights were well worth sharing.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 18 months ago from Queensland Australia

      This is such a shock! Please accept my deep condolences. Drbj was one of my favourite writers, her sense of humour one of a kind, and she was so supportive and encouraging of my own writing. So sad :(

    • drbj profile image
      Author

      drbj and sherry 18 months ago from south Florida

      Dear Maria:

      Thank you so much.

    • drbj profile image
      Author

      drbj and sherry 18 months ago from south Florida

      Dear always exploring:

      Thank you. She touched many lives with her whit and charm. She wrote me short rhymes as clues for a scavenger hunt in her apartment this last Valentine's Day. I will cherish them forever. She was so clever with such a great mind.

    • drbj profile image
      Author

      drbj and sherry 18 months ago from south Florida

      Dear MartieCoetser:

      Thank you for your kind words. She was one incredible lady and the best mother in the world!

    • marcoujor profile image

      Maria Jordan 18 months ago from Jeffersonville PA

      Your mom would be proud of you...what a funny and classy lady.

      My thoughts and prayers are with you and family. Hugs, Maria

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 18 months ago from Southern Illinois

      I forgot to tell you that she wrote a poem every time she commented on my hubs. I cherished them then and I will especially cherish them now. I feel such a loss. I am so sorry..

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 19 months ago from South Africa

      Knowing that drbj is no longer with us hurts tremendously. She was one of my favorite fellow-hubbers. She will live on in my heart. My condolences to her children and relatives.

    • drbj profile image
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      drbj and sherry 19 months ago from south Florida

      Dear shanmarie:

      Thank you for caring. She loved all her followers and I will try and continue in her footsteps.

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 19 months ago

      Such sad news. I've been wondering about her lately. She will be missed for sure.

    • drbj profile image
      Author

      drbj and sherry 19 months ago from south Florida

      Dear always exploring:

      Thank you so much. My mother was one incredible woman. She was my BFF. She loved all her followers. She wants me to continue writing so in time I will. Take care

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 19 months ago from Southern Illinois

      Oh, I'm so sorry. She was a dear friend who always made me laugh. She will be sadly missed.

    • drbj profile image
      Author

      drbj and sherry 19 months ago from south Florida

      This was the last hub my Mom published. She passed away February 20, 2016. Thank you for your comment.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 19 months ago from California

      I have never understood this form of slapstick comedy actually--Shouldn't our first instinct be to find out if that person is ok?

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 20 months ago from Ontario, Canada

      I often wonder, too. It is just so spontaneous. I think I'll just keep having fun and not think too much of the why. Enjoyed this.

    • drbj profile image
      Author

      drbj and sherry 20 months ago from south Florida

      Hi, MizB, it's so nice to see you here. I'm not at all surprised that you can separate artificial (on the movie screen) Schadenfreude from those identical feelings in real life. Because I already knew what a sweet soul you have. You are most welcome, m'dear, for the good laugh. Happy I had you going with the funny story.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 20 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Guilty as charged drbj, though not if the person actually gets injured. Usually if we know the event isn't real or that it's acted we feel free to laugh. It also depends on the definition of "misfortune" too. A lot of misfortune could certainly never be funny.

      Actually though I think I have presented more people with the opportunity to feel "Schadenfreude" than the other way around. Good question though.

    • sueroy333 profile image

      Susan Mills 20 months ago from Indiana

      What is it called when you laugh at your OWN pratfalls?! Jim Carey makes me laugh, so I must feel SOME Schadenfreude. No one wants to admit that, as long as here's no serious injury, watching our kid, lover, or best friend walk smack into a wall is funny... But it is, it really is!!

      Thank you for making me take a good hard look at myself this morning! Life IS funny.. Even when it hurts!! Esp. When it hurts! Lol. Excellent hub!!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 20 months ago from Oklahoma

      I'm familiar with the condition, and yes I've felt it, lol.

      Another fun read!

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 20 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      DRBJ "I'm just messing with you." I must confess that I started to chuckle, knowing it was a joke. But you bring up an interesting point. I never liked Laurel & Hardy or the Three Stooges; it just seems as though they were hurting each other all the time. Maybe that's why I've always been afraid of circus clowns. And here, all the time I thought I was coulrophobic. Very interesting, thought provoking hub. :-)

    • breakfastpop profile image

      breakfastpop 20 months ago

      I have to be honest, I don't laugh at the misfortunes of others. I get the deal with slipping on a banana peel and laughing but it just doesn't elicit a laugh from me. I don't think it makes someone a terrible person to laugh, but I don't understand it.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 20 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      You've posed some thought provoking questions, drbj. I'm going to have to think about them carefully. Thank you for an interesting hub and for teaching me the meaning of a new word.

    • Eldon Arsenaux profile image

      Eldon Arsenaux 20 months ago from Cooley, Texas

      I think sometimes it is simpler than pleasures derived from physical pain. When someone cries and we laugh instead of showing compassion we reveal Schadenfreude, yes. Yet, laughter is less complex to summon than sincere sympathy. I find it easy to laugh but hard to cry, but I believe that is me, sincerely. Whatever that says about the human condition I should not postulate, since that would be synecdochic. What it says about me is too revealing for my ego-comfort.

      Still, I think this was a great hub BJ Rakow. An interesting idea to consider. The argument of 'reality' in these situations, i.e. that what we see on a show is known as unreal is hard for me to support. We insert ourselves daily into the fiction of reality. It's not a hard line, the line between reality and fiction. So when we laugh at a 'fictional' image on TV, it is because we can believe it has a imaged counter-part in reality. Consider children at a game. It is play, but not merely. It is an infantile manifestation of something which humans as adults consider seriously. (cops & robbers; tag; hide-and-seek). Maybe that will get your mental boulder-image rolling, so-to-speak.

      A wish of grace to you,

      -E.G.A.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Fuller 20 months ago from Southern Illinois

      I think the reason we can laugh at something funny in the movies or TV, we know it's not real. If I see something happening to someone on the street or an animal get hurt it bothers me. I loved the Three Stooges and I loved to see Johnny Carson get picked on by the animals he had on his show. I also enjoyed learning what schadenfreude means!

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 20 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      We do our best but some misfortune is just so hilarious. Great hub and well done presentation. I am covered because I can laugh at my own misfortunes.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 20 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Hell, I'm guilty of all of those choices...laughed at them all. Why? It would take someone smarter than I to answer that. I am what I am. :) Loved the joke that started it all off and yes, I loved the Three Stooges!

    • shanmarie profile image

      shanmarie 20 months ago

      You made me think of a video a friend shared the other day and, yes, I did chuckle. But I laugh at myself too because I know it is likely hilarious to others. Thankfully, this woman was laughing too or I think it would've been a bit cruel of her friends to laugh at her. They were hiking together and this lady didn't want to get dirty. She had a huge, bulky pack on her back but decided she would try to jump over the mud puddle instead of go through it. She hesitated a bit, then jumped ahead to the island in the center of the puddle, only to find she had too much momentum to stop and toppled head first into the puddle on the other side of the island. In exchange for not getting her feet dirty, she muddied her entire front side.

      But for what's it's worth, I think we laugh at the misfortune of others because it's comical relief. It eases tension in many situations. We do not laugh when we think someone is seriously hurt and even if feelings are hurt, we then feel bad for laughing. For some, it may be a superiority thing, but I think it is not so much for most people.

      P.S. I love the penguin video. Penguins are my son's favorite animals. I'll have to remember to show that to him. Do you think that penguin was an angry sibling? LOL

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 20 months ago

      Yep, I'm guilty. I laughed at Laurel and Hardy or even Wile E. Coyote because even as a child, I knew those things weren't real and that the damage wasn't real. I laugh at a contrived slipping on a banana peel in the movies for the same reason, but if someone slips and falls in real life, I don't laugh. In fact if I can, I try to help them. In other words, the very scenes that I find so funny in the movies or on TV are horrifying to me in real life. You did make me think, though, and you certainly had me going with the joke. Thanks for a good laugh.