Spreading the Joy

Individual Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft 

English is a wonderful language. From its roots in the old Angles and Saxons warring with each other and on through the Romans and Normans, it has absorbed Latin and French influences and more — and become a more colorful and descriptive language along the way.

But there are still words in other languages that haven’t made their way into English, and you have to use the foreign word to capture the real essence of the meaning. Take the German word schadenfreude, for example. It’s a rather disturbing word that exposes some real psychological naughtiness going on in your mind. In short, it describes the pleasure you feel in the misfortune of another.

Without going into all possible motives for such a feeling, let’s turn instead to a new word — freudenfreude — made up by social scientists to describe exactly the opposite feeling from schadenfreude — the pleasure you take in another’s, especially a friend’s, good fortune.

This is where it gets interesting and beneficial. Writing for HuffPost, Brittany Wong calls on insights from a book by psychology professor Catherine Chambliss, Empathy Rules: Depression, Schadenfreude and Freudenfreude. She notes that it’s perfectly natural and healthy to draw comparisons with others. The problem is that comparisons too easily lead to jealousy.

To avoid slipping into schadenfreude, which too often follows jealousy, the solution is to consciously make a point of celebrating a friend’s win. The reason is that doing so is actually a key to building stronger, more supportive friendships. Fortunately, there are easy ways to do exactly that, and Wong suggests the following:

“Say to yourself: ‘Right now, I can choose to emphasize competition or caring in this relationship. If I pick caring, we will both win.’ “

“Look for moments when your friend is sharing an accomplishment and take a pause.”

“Remember: You benefit from this, too.”

“Plan something to celebrate your friend’s wins.”

“Missed a chance to celebrate your friend’s success? Reach back out.”

“Take time to celebrate your wins, too.”

The urge to compete fights within us the urge to care for one another, so it takes some conscious effort to build our friendships by focusing on our innate desire to care. Try it, and you may find it is more than worth the effort — for your friends and for yourself. Read Wong’s full article here.