top of page

Schadenfreude——Feeling Joy in Others' Misfortune

What is Schadenfreude?

Schadenfreude is a German word, which is a psychological term that refers to finding happiness in the misfortune of others. There is also a simple English saying: the malicious joy. It's often considered a negative emotion because it's the pleasurable feeling you get when you see someone else's pain. However, some research results also believe that Schadenfreude can be a good emotion, because the person who experiences the gloating emotion has a sense of relief and satisfaction for the misfortune himself has encountered. However, the malicious joy must be indirect and negative. That is to say, if the subject himself first takes the initiative to create disasters for others, and then feels joy, it is not a positive emotion. Malicious pleasures can increase one's self-esteem, regulate hierarchies, and also balance the dominance of others...but there are many open questions that have yet to be figured out.

Is Shadenfreude good or bad?

Although Schadenfreude is an extremely complex emotion, its neuronal structure is simple: "If we are happy about someone else's misfortune, the reward center in our brain is activated." Schadenfreude not only looks like pure happiness, it feels like it too.

Shadenfreude's Trigger

1. Competition

The trigger for malicious joy is almost always competition. In a competitive relationship, if our competitor has an accident or makes a fool of himself, we will naturally feel a sense of joy. There's no right or wrong, it's just a normal feeling as a human being.

2. Jealousy

We sometimes envy other people's social status, prestige, wealth and attractiveness, and even feel jealous. When such a person has an accident, the reward system in our brain will be activated, and we feel a relief and joy .


When we feel that a person's status is above us, for example our superior or boss, when such person has a loss, we may feel happy instead of feeling genuinely sad for him. However, when some misfortune happens to someone lower than our own social status, what we may feel is pity or compassion. That is to say, many times, whether we feel happiness or pity doesn’t depend on what happened, but on whether that person's social status is higher or lower than our own. This is human nature.

4. Sense of Justice

Sometimes if we think a person should be condemned morally, we may have a sense of justice when he has misfortune. This kind of malicious joy is also moral joy.

5. Fairness

What brings the greatest malicious joy may be a sense of fairness. When a person is unattractive, incompetent, and inferior to us in all aspects, but has more wealth and luck than us, the malicious joy brought to us by the misfortune of such a person is usually the greatest.

For example, in the workplace, when a boss gains power and position through bullying or dominance, we feel joy when he encounters misfortune; whilst if we think the boss gains power, position and prestige through his ability or attitude towards others, we will not experience such malicious joy.

The Chimpanzee Gloat

Interestingly, malicious joy also occurs in chimpanzees. Chimpanzees have a view on their keepers, whether they are good or bad. Experiments have shown that when bad keepers are punished, chimpanzees scramble to see how the punishment is delivered, even if it means they have to open a heavy door in order to see it, but when good breeders are punished, they yell in protest, or simply don't want to watch.

Contact us to know more. Subscribe to us to receive updates and news about us. Overcome provides CTAA accredited remote and tailored advice on solving mental health related problems in a few efficient and effective sessions with unbeatable strategies to give you an unfair advantage in life that can benefit you for all your life with 98% success rate. (Depression, Anxiety, Stress, Sleep, Mental Health, Therapy)


bottom of page