Do You Bask in Other People’s Misfortunes? - Deepstash
Do You Bask in Other People’s Misfortunes?

Do You Bask in Other People’s Misfortunes?


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Do You Bask in Other People’s Misfortunes?

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How Our Sense of Fairness Influences Judgments About the "Fortunes of Others"

It may seem normal, but not nice, to experience at least some pleasure when misfortune befalls a rival.

New research contrasts a new emotion, "happy-for-ness" with schadenfreude(a German word combining the words harm and joy), envy, and sympathy in response to success or failure in others.

By understanding your own tendency to engage in social comparison, you can move past your negative and into more empathetic reactions to others.


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Hold Back The Victory Shout!

The idea that you should feel bad when someone else encounters a loss or other form of misfortune is hammered into most people’s sense of moral responsibility.

Little children may shout with joy when they win a family board game, but this ignoble reaction ordinarily becomes less and less acceptable in anyone over the age of 8 or 9.

As adults, you may still experience this sense of delight when you’ve vanquished your opponents, but you know that you have to hold back on expressing it openly.


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A Pleasurable Feeling At Others Expense

Feeling happy at the expense of someone else’s losses is an emotion that psychologists refer to as schadenfreude, a German word combining the words harm (schaden) and joy (freude). Although this is a common enough emotion, is it inevitable that people take pleasure in the harm that befalls others?

Perhaps you hear that a small electrical fire destroyed your neighbor’s kitchen. Isn’t it likely that you would feel sympathetic toward them rather than triumphant?


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Comparisons Are Natural

  • Social comparisons are at the heart of people's emotional responses to other people's (mis)falls
  • If the person you're comparing yourself to unfavourably has a desirable outcome, you'll experience envy.
  • You'll feel sympathy because you can "look down" at the other person without feeling threatened by their superiority over you.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, you will feel what the German authors call "happy-for-ness" when you don't see someone as having qualities more desirable than your own.


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How Fairness Plays A Part

A plethora of studies have shown that individuals do not like inequality, also known as inequity aversion.

The farther away someone's relative rank moves from your own, the worse you will feel.

Emotional reactions to other people's successes or failures exist on a sliding scale.

You'll feel envious of a winner, then, who ranks higher than you in some way, as this individual threatens "not only comparative concerns but also self-esteem".


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  • When you see someone get what you would like to have, such as the opportunity to join that outdoor gathering, ask yourself why this matters so much.
  • If you feel that your upward social comparison process is being set into motion, you can then start to bring it back down to erase your inequity aversion.
  • Feeling joy in other people’s misery doesn’t have to be an inevitable outcome of the social comparison process. By understanding the full dimensions of the FOE model, you can move yourself toward the fulfilling end of the emotional continuum.


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