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Schadenfreude vs. Freudenfreude

Schadenfreude and Freudenfreude describe important emotions that most of us have experienced. But we do not often talk about them.

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  Teri Lapping  —  Grammar Tips
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Schadenfreude vs. Freudenfreude

Can we be conscious of an emotion when we have no word to describe it? 

Schadenfreude and freudenfreudedescribe important emotions that most of us have experienced. But we do not often talk about them.  And to complicate matters, these words do not have direct English translations. 

Schadenfreude” is a German word, originating in the 18th century and first documented in English in 1845. It is pronounced “sha-din-froy-da”, from the word “shayden”- damage or hurt and “freude” – joy or pleasure. We hear this word used more and more often, in psychology, in sociology, and in day-to-day conversation.

Schadenfreudemeans experiencing self-satisfaction or pleasure out of someone else’s misfortune or suffering. It is when you want what the other person has or gets, like a new career, a prize, or a certain life situation. 

For example: “Her social life thrived on schadenfreude.” “They felt a sense of schadenfreude when their rivals lost the championship.”

The word “envy” is a close cousin to “schadenfreude,” but it is not the same. “Envy” is a human emotion that is neither inherently negative nor positive. But “schadenfreude” is always negative; it is envy that has become dangerous. It is what we feel when we compare ourselves to others and make an emotional shift: if we can’t have it, then we don’t want anyone else to have it, either. We begin to hope that the other person will be unhappy and dissatisfied.

This is not an emotion to be proud of, but it is a normal emotion, nonetheless. Most of us experienceschadenfreude” at certain times in our lives. It can often originate from a sense of inferiority or from a sense of fear; from a feeling of powerlessness and lack of control; and it can be based on the feeling that we deserve what the other person has. 


Do you feel good when certain successful people lose their money or experience major setbacks?

Do you feel a satisfaction when someone you envy does not get what they want?

Do you see “schadenfreude” in your workplace, where competition is encouraged, and people often succeed at the price of other’s failures? 

Does “schadenfreude” manifest in your community or in your family group, where people gossip about one another, sometimes deriving pleasure from sharing and analyzing the misfortunes of their neighbors?

Do you wish that certain politicians would experience misfortune and not run for office?
In politics, we often see that “schadenfreude” is used as a vehicle for gaining attention and power.

 Competition is inherent in politics, and one person loses when another one wins. This setup creates an inevitable wish for the failure of another. As citizens and voters, we are often wishing for the defeat of a candidate in order to allow our own favorite to win. This feeling can escalate into “schadenfreude”. 


Freudenfreude” is a combination of the two German words, “Freuden” and ‘freude”, both meaning pleasure, or delight. “Freudenfreudemeans the opposite of “schadenfreude”: it is the feeling of happiness for and enjoyment in the successes of others. The feeling of “freudenfreudecreates an emotional state that supports positive relationships and leads to healthier, less stressful thoughts and life practices. 


How can you change your feelings of “schadenfreude” to feelings of “freudenfreude?”

Strive daily to become aware of your feelings. Although it can be disappointing to have these negative feelings, if you are alert to your inner thoughts and emotions, you can succeed in changing them.

Choose to express positive feelings, even when it is hard. Tell people that you love them, that you are proud of them. Verbally wish them success.

Choose to express gratitude.  Tell people what you appreciate about them. For example, “Thank you for listening.” “I am so glad that you came with me to that appointment.”

Choose to concentrate on small successes. Recognizing a positive moment is as important as acknowledging a great event.

Choose to talk about subjects that unite people with each other, use kind and encouraging words, and strive to present someone in a positive light. 

Pay attention to the type of questions that you ask your friends and family. Decide to ask positive questions: “Tell me something good that happened at work today?” “What made you happy today?” “What made you proud?”

Choose to surround yourself with people who genuinely want the best for you and take pleasure in your success. Be aware of those people who experience satisfaction from your misfortune and stay away from them as much as possible. Whenever possible, choose those friends who celebrate your good times as well as commiserate with you in your bad times. 


Although these words do not have an English equivalent, we can adopt them into our daily language. When we give these concepts a name, we better understand them. When we succeed in transforming our feelings of “schadenfreude” to feelings of “freudenfreude”, we will become more valued friends, better partners at work, and citizens who are invested in the happiness of all. 

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