The word ‘Schadenfreude’ is German and it means pleasure in pain. “It can be rooted in jealousy, competitiveness, or sometimes even hatred.” (Wilco W. van Dijk, November 26, 2014) Now, if you’re feeling guilty about your evil tendancy to smile as others are weeping, you can rest in the knowledge that we learn how to do this from a very young age.
A new study at the University of Haifaa lead by Professor Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory has shown that children as young as two show signs of schadenfreude. It was recently believed that this emotion was not developed until around age 7. The experiment in itself was quite interesting. The study (comprising of 35 different groups) placed a mother with her own child and another child in a room. A situation was set up where the mother encouraged the two children to play together then read a book aloud to herself for two minutes. After two minutes, she spilled a glass of water over the book. In the second situation, the mother encouraged the children to play together then read the book for two minutes to the child that was not her own. She then spilled the water over the book. In the first situation, there was little reaction. In the second scenario, the child of the mother showed visible signs of happiness at the other child’s misfortune such as jumping up and down, clapping and rolling on the floor.
"People with low self esteem are more likely to experience Schadenfreude" explains study researcher Wilco W. van Dijk of Leiden University in the Netherlands. I find this fact quite interesting. Because it is definitely something I’ve come across in my life. You know, something that you just know without any evidence to back it up. People with low self esteem do seem to take more delight when others fail. I have had friends that have been absolutely fabulous when my life is shit and then nowhere to be seen when my life is fabulous. It was kind of like they got a kick out of seeing me miserable.
So why do we find joy in other people’s pain? Apparently it’s evolutionary. Schadenfreude is an evolutionary mechanism that helps us cope with systems of inequality (Prof. Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory, 2014).
We can evolve even further though can’t we? We can evolve to a point where we always find joy in other people’s happiness and the term ‘Schadenfreude’ is obsolete.
But before we do, let me just say: wasn’t it funny when that person was total bitch to me and then someone popped a bottle of bubbly and the cork hit her in the head. Yeah that was funny and it made me very, very happy.