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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.


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."


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