Schadenfreude: Life’s Purest Joy?

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Schadenfreude, coined by the Germans, is defined as “taking enjoyment in the misfortune of someone else.”

Based on that definition, I will go out on a limb and say, yes, Schadenfreude is life’s purest joy.  However, before you jump to assume that I’m a horrible person, I’d like to make mention of what Wikipedia documents on Schadenfreude, namely the fact that a number of other cultures and languages have words and expressions for Schadenfreude.

Such as:

Danish: Egen lykke er at foretrække men andres ulykke er dog ikke at foragte: “(One’s) own happiness is to be preferred, but the misfortune of others should not be scorned.”

Danish: Der er ingen fryd som skadefryd: “There is no glee like schadenfreude.”

Dutch: Geen schoner vermaak dan leedvermaak: “No pleasure more beautiful than schadenfreude.”

German: Schadenfreude ist die schönste Freude: “Schadenfreude is the best form of joy” AND Lachen heißt: schadenfroh sein, aber mit gutem Gewissen: “Humour is just Schadenfreude with a clear conscience.”

Finnish: vahingonilo on aidointa iloa, sillä siihen ei sisälly tippaakaan kateutta: “schadenfreude is the most genuine kind of joy, since it doesn’t include even a drop of envy

Norwegian: skadefryd er den eneste sanne gleden: “schadenfreude is the only true joy”

Slovak: škodorados? je najvä?šia rados?: “schadenfreude is the greatest joy”

Swedish: skadeglädje är den enda sanna glädjen: “schadenfreude is the only true joy”

Needless to say, I’m not alone.   Even more abundantly clear is the fact that TV producers know that I’m out there (along with a merry band of like-minded viewers) that can’t help but consume programming that exploits other’s misfortunes.


The best one ever, and one of my favorite shows: America’s Funniest Home Videos.

Sure, usually it’s a cute baby or wily puppy that wins the grand prize, but the bulk of the show doesn’t air those types of videos; most of the time, we’re watching men having unfortunate shots taken at their crotches, helpless brides tripping and falling into their wedding cakes, and people falling down.

The babies and the puppies win, or at least I think they win, as a way of redeeming our collective conscience.  Sure, we can laugh at other people’s misfortunes, but we’re too good to pay them for the right to laugh at them.

And no, that’s not the only example of programming that exploits our need to laugh at others.  Look at a program like MXC (Most Extreme Elimination Challenge).  This is a terrific example, as not only are we laughing at the content of the show (stupid people stupidly competing in stupid events designed to make them look stupid), but we laugh at the way it’s presented to us.  The show’s rights were bought out for American broadcasting (in Japan, it was known as Takeshi’s Castle) and was systematically bastardized to have you not only laughing at the contestants, but at the culture that produced the show.

To a lesser degree, a show like Ninja Warrior follows that same idea.  While the dubbing isn’t mocking, 80% of the show is watching (and waiting for) people screwing up and falling.  While the show exhibits tremendous feats of strength and agility (for the people that actually make it anywhere in the competition), I do not watch the show early on Sunday mornings simply because I want to see someone make it over the warped wall.  I watch it specifically because I want to watch someone not make it over the warped wall.

Now, I’m going to back track and pose a hypothetical question, one based off the assumption that I’m a terrible person, Schadenfreude is malevolent and anti-humanistic (rather than being completely, 100% human nature), and that laughing at another’s misfortune is wrong: Why are there more shows than ever (both already airing and in production) that capitalize on not only the sheer idiocy of their participants, but on the willingness to watch said idiocy by an audience?

Perhaps it was George Carlin who put it most eloquently:

Somehow I enjoy watching people suffer.

Jackie for



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