By Julie Taylor
Your friend with the “perfect” life gets dumped, and you’re a teeny, tiny bit happy about it. Your coworker got passed over for a big promotion, and you find yourself cheering a little on the inside. Yes, you know it’s horrible... but you just can’t seem to help it. The Germans dubbed this "schadenfreude" (literally, "harm joy"), and most of us have been guilty of feeling it at one point or another.
That said, it’s just not healthy to take "malicious pleasure" in someone else's misfortune. To squash this unattractive emotion, it's time to stop making the following excuses:
But... I can’t help it. It’s human nature. According to a 2013 study, taking pleasure in the pain of others may indeed be evolutionary. But happiness expert Aymee Coget, Ph.D., says you should aspire to rise above the norm. “You don’t have to be part of the herd,” she says. “Don’t just accept that you have to be this way because your mind tells you to. Expect more from yourself. Addicts kick biological addictions all the time -- and you can beat this, too, even if it's in your genes.” Mind over matter!
But... my friend would feel the same about me. If this is the case, you might want to reexamine your friendship. “It doesn’t sound as if these folks know how to be good friends,” says Jennifer Howard, Ph.D. “Friends want the best for each other. They guard each other’s hopes, wishes and privacy. [They don't] tear each other down.”
But... nothing bad ever seems to happen to him/her. It’s about time! Reality check: No one's life is perfect. “Everyone has their difficulties and challenges,” says Howard. “If you think everything is wonderful for your friend 24/7, then you're not looking deeply or closely enough.”
But... it makes me feel better about my own life. Sure, it might boost your self-esteem for a minute. But that satisfaction will soon be replaced by shame. “What would make you feel even better is being your very best self,” says Howard. “That's what helps us and the world. Where is your compassion for your fellow human beings?”
But... everybody feels like this! Sure, a lot of people derive pleasure from other people’s pain. But that doesn’t make it right. “Bobby Sue and Joey do it, so you can, too?” asks Coget. “I don’t think so. You wouldn't teach this behavior to your kids, so it’s time to curb the behavior for yourself.” Start by asking yourself whether feeling this way is hurting or helping you. “The guilt you feel about this probably outweighs any glee you feel,” she says. “Challenge yourself to transform that primal, animal instinct into compassionate, Buddha-like behavior instead.”
But... rivalry like this is healthy. Friendly competition might be healthy, but inwardly jumping for joy when someone gets kicked to the curb is not. “Schaudenfreude creates major stress and anxiety,” says Coget. “And there’s nothing healthy about that!”