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A Feeling Which Needs Defining: Schadenfreude

Have you ever seen an individual you consider an enemy or have a grievance with experience pain, suffering or failure? While watching this individual experience negativity in their life, did you feel any sort of pleasure or joy? Perhaps you felt as if karma had your back or that the individual got what they deserve? That their pain was justified?

As much as people would probably like to deny it, experiencing pleasure from someone else’s pain is a pervasive feeling. Although this form of devious self-satisfaction may be a little twisted, watching karma turn on a person you dislike and feeling happy is a familiar feeling. In its simplest and less twisted form, this feeling can even be found while watching a villain in a movie finally be defeated.

In the English language, there is no one word to describe the experience of pleasure from the misfortune of others; however, in German, the term used to describe it is ‘schadenfreude’. Moreover, this word defines an important and common feeling which is seldom understood.

Broken down, the German word ‘schaden’ is typically defined as ‘harm’ and ‘freude’ is typically defined as ‘joy.’ Together, ‘harm joy’ encompasses the experience of enjoying the pain and suffering of others.

Now, whether schadenfreude should be translated to English as ‘harm joy,’ remains undetermined or whether it should be turned into a completely new word is up to you. Regardless, this word is an essential feeling that deserves a word to describe it.

Now, why is understanding this word important?

Sometimes experiencing complicated feelings is hard to fully comprehend and identify, especially when there isn’t a definition or understanding of what it means. This is especially the case when two contradictory feelings are combined together into one experience. As is the case with schadenfreude, both pleasure and pain are present.

Through defining this contradictory experience, it can become easier to fully understand the complexity of its emotions. Moreover, it also becomes easier to stop oneself and break down the feeling.

Although schadenfreude is a common feeling among all people, its experience is not necessarily justifiable. Experiencing pleasure from the pain of others while being joyful is not a dutiful experience. It continues the rhetoric of negativity in one’s emotions. It also stops individuals from achieving full forgiveness as enjoying the pain of one’s enemies is nowhere close to forgiveness.

The power of defining a feeling is unsurmountable. Although one can understand feeling pleasure from someone else’s pain, its definition can help it be identified quicker. Its definition can also help individuals heal their grievances against others and identify areas for forgiveness.

So, should the word schadenfreude be added to our vocabulary?

Yes! Although it is not a word that is necessary for everyday conversation, the power of a definition can allow this complex emotion to be better understood.

Wilfrid Laurier '22

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