From juicy gossip to salacious reality TV shows to our combative political landscape, some strangely take pleasure in other people’s misfortune. For some reason, we might feel better when others miss the mark. This childish emotion is known as schadenfreude, a German word that Merriam-Webster defines as “enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others.”
The root cause is a sense of scarcity. If others miss out, the theory goes, the chance for your own success increases. Another person’s loss is an opportunity for personal gain. Further, when we see others struggle, we might not feel as bad about our own missteps. Unfortunately, this temporary enjoyment quickly dissipates in the same way drug-induced euphoria is short lived. After it wears off, the fix leaves you feeling empty and unfulfilled.
The Sanskrit word muditā is the opposite emotion. The term refers to taking pleasure in other people’s success and well-being. As parents we feel this when our kids do something noteworthy. Instead of feeling threatened, we savor their success with true and lasting joy.
Muditā is abundance-thinking in action, realizing that the accomplishments of others doesn’t reduce your own odds of success. Muditā is choosing joy instead of despair. Grounded happiness instead of jealousy. Our wellbeing and creativity increase while our anger, resentment, and envy evaporate.
If we practice schadenfreude, we not only bring down others but our own wellbeing suffers. Carrying around negativity, blame, and spite is a heavy burden which takes a significant toll over time. Muditā, on the other hand, lifts others up. And while you’re elevating others, you’re replenishing your own energy to be the best version of yourself.
When others stumble, let’s offer a helping hand and a compassionate voice to lift them up instead of pushing them further down. And when others thrive, celebrating their success only helps to unlock your own. If you find yourself getting pulled down by the corrosive feeling of schadenfreude, reach deep into your supply of muditā to counterbalance the negativity.
In both business and life, the way you respond to the victory or defeat of others has a direct link to your own wins and losses. Celebrate others’ failures, and your own struggles will soon follow. Cherish their success, and you will be rewarded with your own triumphs.
We each have a choice to make when we experience the fortunes or misfortunes of others. Schadenfreude or muditā.