Schadenfreude: Do People Really have Fun at Other’s Misfortune?

I became familiar with the term “Schadenfreude” when I came across the book “The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature” by Richard Horton Smith. The word intrigued me. I then did a quick google search and came across the article “The Science of Schadenfreude: It is part of being human to laugh at someone’s misfortune” by Dr. Joseph A. Shrand. The article helped me gain some insight into what ‘Schadenfreude’ exactly is and allowed me to internally confirm and normalize the term as a phenomenon that does actually exist.

According to Shrand, “Schadenfreude” is defined as a human being laughing at the misfortune of others – at the expense of the one suffering, and feeling mentally rewarded for witnessing another human being failing at something or feeling undeniable joy from watching someone end up frustrated and hurt because of something difficult the individual is facing. “Schadenfreude” comes from two German words, ‘schaden’ and ‘freude’, which means ‘harm’ and ‘joy’ respectively.

Recognizing and acknowledging the presence of ‘Schadenfreude’ in daily life can actually feel emotionally restorative when it comes to emotional healing. From what I myself experienced through some curiosity-driven research, learning more about this concept of ‘Schadenfreude’ can surely allow us to place ourselves in the shoes of those who are heartless and insensitive towards others. And it can also likely allow us to focus solely on learning lessons from past experiences and continuing to move forward. As Shrand points out, understanding why we and others feel how we feel, as well as understanding schadenfreude, helps give us a chance to respond thoughtfully, rather than impulsively. While maintaining our emotions, we can then exercise better judgment in sensitive situations that require strong empathy to navigate and/or move through.

We all face struggles and battles every day, whether we show that or not is up to our discretion. Most of us stay composed to the point where no one really thinks we are in need of help and support. I think a lot of us do this because of our fear of others feeling joy from hearing that we are not well. Speaking for myself, I can say that I’ve never laughed at anyone’s pain because it morally isn’t something I could ever handle or feel okay with doing. However, I can admit that I have – on different occasions – felt involuntarily indifferent and numb to the misfortunes of those who wronged me, especially while I was distracted with and struggling with my own hardships. Such indifference or ‘coldness’ to the emotional battles of others due to being in a state of emotional distraught myself could be a form of “Schadenfreude” inside me. Inside all of us. Sometimes, we see someone struggling so we laugh and ‘make jokes’ about someone else’s misfortune, wanting ‘to make them smile’. But it isn’t a joke for them as they are in pain. Whether we want to admit it and not, we all sometimes feel ‘strangely satisf[ied]’ that life is not going well for someone else. But why this need to compete with others? Why do some people desire to outdo others or to feel joy at the failure of others when none of us are on the same exact wavelengths? We all have different mindsets, different goals, different backgrounds which should – realistically – mean that we should be focused on empowering each other to make our collective society a better place. Why do some people have this need to compare? Why is true and genuine empowerment so rare? Does it stem from insecurity or not feeling good enough? These are questions worth considering.

In any case, as we all struggle (in our own ways) and continue on with our personal journeys, others are watching us from the sidelines of our lives. These other people range from good souls who want only the best for us, to other souls who really don’t and won’t ever like us at all for whatever reason (no matter what we do). Such negative people will surely feel joy at seeing us face, accept and push through our struggles and shortcomings. They will gossip and say cruel things about us with no concern for us or our feelings and. Ignoring and dismissing the hurt feelings of those around us and feeling pleasure at the suffering we see is not something any of us should be proud of. It’s cruel, heartless, and it shows no sense of real humanity.

Why bring others down? Why tear them apart when you could instead spend that time working on yourselves and doing better for yourself and those around you? In the long term, does schadenfreude really bring any fun into our lives? I don’t think it does. It only darkens our souls and causes us to act in ways we regret later, thanks to the universal notion that we receive what we put into the universe; that the wrongdoing done to someone will come back to the wrongdoer, eventually.

During the darkest moments, we often end up seeing the darkest parts of people around us, as well as the darkest parts of ourselves. Some are quick to throw salt on fresh wounds just to see our pained reactions. Here is a beautiful quote that I believe captures all that I wish to say about ‘schadenfreude’: “Some people gain satisfaction in trying to dim your light, they will try to outshine you, even at the cost of the truth” – Spiritual Truths.

As human beings, I think the one thing we share in common with one another is that none of us are immune to the feeling of denial of the truth. We all believe and want to believe that we are all good people. Goodness, no doubt, is inside us, but it’s important for us to be aware of and reflect on the darkness inside us all. You are not alone in struggling with dark thoughts towards others. I can assure you that there have been many times where I’ve been in so much pain that I’ve had trouble even understanding and wanting to understand a situation someone else is in because I was consumed by my own quiet suffering.

Staying strong, remaining honest and being assertive allowed me (during difficult moments) to stand up for myself and what I found the most relief in was answering to cruelty (such as those making fun of my suffering or feeling joy about hearing of it), with silence. My silence spoke more than any words ever could. If anything, the silence was an outcry which allowed some individuals to become more aware of their conscience. The non-hostile and peaceful (non-manipulative) silence from me to others also gave me time to reflect on my own shortcomings and areas for improvement, in order to heal. There is that saying that with every finger we point at people, there are always three pointing back at us, so in no way are we ourselves immune from also doing the same negative actions and deeds others do.

To conclude, it’s fair to consider that ‘Schadenfreude’ is most likely universal. It is in all of us and it’s not something we can ignore about our nature as human beings. When we’ve faced betrayal, deceit, and mistakes of our own in judgment and assumptions – sometimes due to what others have done to us (i.e. the after effects of schadenfreude), our soul often then vibrates in a negative way. We wallow in our pain and can only get out of this pit we’ve thrown ourselves into by grabbing a hold of our human compassion and empathy again. Shrand takes the negative aspect of schadenfreude and transforms it – with ease – into a positive element by mentioning that concept of ‘transformational leadership’. This is when people come together during times of conflict, identify where change is needed in society, and then work to fuel and develop that change. Transformational leadership allows everyone to heal as well as heal others, as a collective whole.

What are your thoughts on Schadenfreude? How do you deal with dark thoughts towards yourself and others? Please comment below. We’d love to hear your thoughts.


Shrand, J. (2017, March 27). The Science of Schadenfreude. Retrieved August 26, 2017, from



Edited by Viveca Shearin

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  1. I agree with the viewpoints illustrated in the post, as i can see the reflection of my own self from your experience. True , greed and selfishness, along with other so-called contradictive and negative feelings are innate to human. However, each individual has different reactions in response to misfortunes. Instead of remaining silent, they are more ready than ever to fire back, which in turn stirs even more frustration and exasperation. They are meant to be the “ mean girls” in high school always tryna mess around with others. How to deal with those people, as well as those situations still remains a yet unanswered question

  2. Hello,

    I would like to share my thoughts and experiences as a studying European white female from the generation Y, let this be an odd introduction.

    First of all, I wanted to leave a comment here mostly because of two things:
    1. Most people I know or used to know in my environment would probably easily recognized the concept of this term without even knowing the German word for it (just after description of it); more than that – I know that this “feeling” is more common among people here (Middle Europe) than someone’s might think. I could easily point out elders (60+yrs old), generation (X) like our parents, our generation (Y) or our younger generation Z.
    2. Another thing, after the first that I mentioned is that I understand this term hmm… a bit differently, I suppose. It is not even “coldness”, Being numb towards others in society. There are also some things like that, but to find “joy in someone’s suffering”… this is so different from ignoring people in society and leaving things as they are (no responsibility). For me, it is more connected to some of the “natural/primal” sadistic motives inside of us from which you could either ease your frustration, demonstrate your inner aggressive competitor, fight back for all the times the society (which put you in the first place here) let you down, regulate your inner tension, pass the aggression further –
    it’s the neverending story someone’s might say, but here, it is more like the cultural thing nowadays (after socialism&communism failed, after aggressive capitalistic system finally showed us his bill).

    I know lots of people who are known for this, even some of them are openly telling others in conversations that they’re using it in their life, mostly talking to other “human predators”.
    The author of the article leaves an impression of spiritual way of thinking – and also mentions – collective thinking. Frankly, I would like to say that this is not a mainstream way of thinking (and never was from what I know from history) for white Europeans. Of course, there are people who are more into spirituality, more into helping others, know the importance of empathy, social responsibility… but this feeling here now is just common, the only thing you can do is to leave these people as they are, as most of them are very good in what they’re doing. They’re often our bosses now, you know. And I do not agree with the statement that most people (who I know, I used to live in more than 7 different locations in EU) believe in goodness anymore in anyone in macro scale. I know it’s sad, but that’s the truth here for me.


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