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Schadenfreude illustration: a double layer of schadenfreude as an onlooker laughing at someone tripping is about to fall into a hole and get their comeuppance


Ah, that satisfying, superior, at once gleeful and slightly sinful feeling when the aggressive driver that overtook you gets his comeuppance and gets flashed by a speed camera. That feeling is Schadenfreude, a nifty German word made up of schaden for damage, harm or hurt and freude for joy. Taking pleasure in others’ misfortunes.

I hadn’t thought much of it before reading some excerpts from Tiffany Watt Smith’s book Schadenfreude. She makes the compelling case to examine the moments where we feel superior at another’s expense as a small window into ourselves. A little twinge of joy, when a colleague doesn’t get a promotion, might reveal your jealousy of their situation or a deep-down resentment of unfairness. If the person who pushed in front of you in the queue drops their ice cream straight after buying it, your secret twinge of joy might be a sense of justice and equity for obeying the rules when they didn’t. Schadenfreude can be a little boost to your own self-esteem.

For a mini-intro, try Tiffany Watt Smith’s TED Ideas article: Do you secretly feel good when others stumble? 5 ways to make peace with this very human emotion.

I revised this sketch for the book Big Ideas Little Pictures. Here's the original

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