Shedding Schadenfreude

“Misery loves company,” as a saying in English goes. The Germans, being who they are, took it up a notch further by calling it for what it really is with the word Schadenfreude, which means “pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” Then, there’s famous American author Gore Vidal, who candidly once said, “Every time a friend of mine succeeds, a little part of me dies.”

Don’t even attempt to pretend that you don’t know that feeling. When you’re all alone with your thoughts, envy is more than happy to keep you company. Maybe you’re good at fighting it off most of the time, maybe even better than everyone else, but you’re not immune to it. It’s the tiny voice whispering inside your head and that niggling feeling scratching away at your heart.

The worse part is, once you start to feel that you’re anything less than happy for other people, the guilt creeps in. A part of you dies in the way Gore Vidal said, yet you end up having to feel bad about that. Guilt makes everything so much more complicated. It won’t let you have the luxury of wallowing in your own misery. Soon, you’re just a confused mess of emotions, seesawing between bitterness and acceptance.

You remind yourself of the word mudita, which is the Buddhist term for “the pleasure that comes from delighting in other people’s well-being rather than begrudging it.” Under your breath, you mutter “mudita, mudita, mudita” over and over again, clinging to it like a lifeline. But alas, you are far from being enlightened enough not to stray from the straight path. Schadenfreude’s pull is much too strong and it wins this round. And the next one. And the one after that, too.

You find it hard to sit back and be the viewer all the time while everyone else gets to be the lead actor in their lives. People keep reassuring you with “Coming soon!” and “Next attraction!” but somehow your movie never gets to “Now showing.” Sometimes, you think that maybe, you’re not meant to be the protagonist, that you’re just meant to be a supporting character. Or maybe, you’re nothing more than just an extra — not meant to do anything else than fill an otherwise empty background. You shudder at the horrific thought, but you wonder if there’s any chance it might be true.

I wish I could tell you that what you think is not true. I wish I could tell you that everything would be okay. But I can’t, because like you, I don’t know the answers to your questions, which happen to be the same as mine, too. The best I can do for you is to be an added voice to your pleas. Maybe, if we ask together, shouting at the top of our lungs, we can be heard and finally get an answer. Maybe, if we wait long enough, as patient as we can be, something’s got to give. Maybe.

For now, while we’re waiting, grab the popcorn and I’ll get the drinks. Let’s put our 3D glasses on, sit back, relax, and enjoy a movie or two — maybe even several. Might as well have fun with this, don’t you think?

Photo by Ana Flor Adrias


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