Be honest—you’ve found pleasure in someone else’s pain at least once before. And you know what? It’s totally normal. We got six girls* to share with us their personal anecdotes so you don’t feel so bad.
*Names have been changed.
(noun): Pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune.
“I revel in glee whenever an influencer gets embroiled in some sort of scandal. For example, last year, an influencer got a lot of flak after it was revealed that she took products and money without keeping to her end of the bargain and posting about the items on social media. I loved how the Internet went crazy! It’s not that I hate influencers—I just don’t find most of them to be genuine or interesting. So if they don’t have a personality, the least they could do is have some integrity.”
“I had a frenemy in university. She’d put me down in front of others and talk bad about me behind my back. It didn’t help that she was a ‘golden girl’ and had it all—perfect grades, great body, many friends and a doting boyfriend. I started hearing rumours about how she’d hook up with a different guy each time she attended a party and it didn’t take long before she got caught cheating. Her whole life unravelled before her eyes. The best part? It turned out I wasn’t the only one she was horrible to, so I wasn’t alone in taking pleasure in her downfall. It was all anyone could talk about for weeks!”
“I’m a lawyer, and I get happy whenever my opposing counsel is scolded by the judge for, say, not photocopying the documents properly. Yes, I’m very petty, but that’s the kind of joy I experience in my life.”
“I grew up overseas and went to a super religious high school. I was often bullied for not being ‘holy enough’, whatever that means, and it got so bad that kids I didn’t know would hurl insults at me. I was a pretty outgoing teen but the experience made me shut down and I even stopped talking to my parents. Eventually, I switched schools, went to a top university in Canada, and then landed a great job in Singapore. The majority of those high school kids never made it to university and many of them got pregnant and married young. I’m living my dream while they’re stuck in my personal nightmare, so while I’m definitely still bitter about being bullied, knowing I’m in a far better place in life sure helps.”
“My ex cheated on me with some girl who eventually destroyed his life. They dated for three years and in that time, she drained his savings and got in the way of his studies such that he failed his degree. He had to move away and repeat his studies. Needless to say, I felt anything but bad for him.”
“I used to know someone I just couldn’t stand. She was condescending, entitled, and wasn’t very nice to me. Some years later, I crossed paths with her boyfriend at work and befriended him. We ended up sleeping together. I didn’t do it because I was attracted to him—I did it because I wanted to mess up her life even if she’d never find out. To be fair to me, the guy was actively looking to cheat.”
WHY DO WE EXPERIENCE SCHADENFREUDE?
According to a Psychology Today article by Professor Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, one of the world’s leading experts in the study of emotions, we take pleasure in other people’s pain for these reasons:
1. We believe the person deserves her misfortune
He shares an example of how our anger is replaced with pleasure when a driver who cut us off is issued a ticket by a traffic policeman—we believe the driver deserved what he got and so we feel glad that justice has been served.
2. We believe their misfortune is minor
He points out that when someone else’s misfortune is severe, we usually feel pity. But if it isn’t all that serious, we think it’s OK to take pleasure in it.
3. We believe we’re not responsible for their misfortune
Professor Ben-Ze’ev also notes that we may take pleasure in someone’s misfortune because we know their failure is not to due to our own wicked behaviour.
IMAGES AUGUST/CLICK PHOTOS