Occasionally we come across certain people whom we do not like. This may be someone we personally know or even a celebrity; someone we are exposed to through the media constantly. They may have a quality we wish to possess or an object we wish we could have but either way we feel cheated and think “why them, why not me?” Now suppose this person loses that quality or that object you wanted. Would you admit to feeling satisfied about? Probably not. But the reality is that it is common to feel this way. This phenomenon has a name, Schadenfreude and has ties to envy.
So what does Schadenfreude consist of? Schadenfreude according to Joseph Epstein is “the emotion [that leads to] delight in another’s failure or defeat (Epstein, 2003). Often times we secretly or in some cases, openly, revel in the demise of someone who is ...view middle of the document...
Schadenfreude may be confused with the feeling of being satisfied when someone is served justice. Although we tend to have reason to exhibit envy towards those in higher positions than us, if that person is guilty of committing some sort of crime and they are caught, we have even more reason to be happy with that person being apprehended. Epstein uses the examples of CEOs and the like committing any range of crimes and finally being caught. We are inclined to feel envy toward these kinds of people because they are wealthy and we are led to believe they have it all. When they end up abusing their power and take advantage of the less fortunate/less knowledgeable, we have reason to justify our envy and attribute our satisfaction to finally having justice served.
In the film The Magnificent 7 Deadly Sins, the envy portion illustrated how people will go to great lengths to attain what they want. A couple was envious of another couple’s home and tried everything they could to get them to sell their home. As a last resort, they convinced the couple that a highway was going to be built right through the home, which was a lie. This was enough for the homeowners to move out and sell their home. Once the envious couple attained what they wanted, they saw that construction machinery was actually rolling up to the house to build the fictitious highway. This film was a great illustration of the satisfaction felt, as a viewer, when the couple finally gets what they deserve for lying and pestering the homeowners. Whether this is Schadenfreude or just justice or karma making its rounds is open to interpretation.
Essentially, Schadenfreude is a very normal emotion. It is pretty harmless when we feel it towards people we don’t even know. It is when we feel it towards people that we know and love, that it is a negative thing. This is when the vicious side of envy rears its head.
Epstein, J. Envy: The Seven Deadly Sins. New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. pag. 587. Kindle file.