Whenever I share about my upcoming Australia trip, people are genuinely happy for me. I’m taken aback because sharing good news, especially over social media, seems perilous these days. A year or so ago, Glennon Doyle shared a video of her singing on a boat with her friends and family. The next day, she had the single-largest drop in followers her entire time on Instagram. She posited it’s because there’s something triggering about seeing women, especially, happy. That perhaps we’re more comfortable with their pain and suffering.
More recently in October, Daisey Miller shared a tweet that said, “my husband and i wake up every morning and bring our coffee out to our garden and sit and talk for hours. every morning. it never gets old & we never run out of things to talk [about]. love him so much.” Some responses were positive but many were scathing and called her out for being privileged and presumably wealthy. There was an assumption Miller didn’t work and had minimal responsibilities.
In other words, instead of celebrating Miller’s quality time with her husband, people tore her down and mocked her. Numerous people tweeted their own versions: “my husband and i wake up every morning and go out to our garden and swordfight for hours. every morning. it never gets old & we never run out of ways to duel and spar. love him so much,” or “my husband and i wake up every morning and go out to our garden and we kill each other with our bare hands because we are miserable and we both have crabs.”
Those that didn’t mock her showcased self-righteousness, which is the conviction that one’s beliefs and behaviors are the most correct. As John Mark Green puts it, “The self-righteous scream judgments against others to hide the noise of skeletons dancing in their own closets.” Twitter is rife with self-righteousness and a hotbed of schadenfreude, a compound of the German words schaden, harm, and freude, joy. It means deriving pleasure or joy from someone else’s suffering or misfortune.
Brené Brown writes in her book Atlas of the Heart that schadenfreude is “seductive. Especially when we’re sucked into groupthink. It’s easy to build counterfeit connection with collective schadenfreude. I say ‘counterfeit’ because when we see someone who we don’t like, we disagree with, or is outside our group stumble, fall, or fail, it’s tempting to celebrate that suffering together and to stir up collective emotion.”
I mean, I get it. I’ve felt schadenfreude from time to time. But that doesn’t mean schadenfreude has to dominate your life. The antidote to schadenfreude is freudenfreude, a word made up by an American psychologist that literally translates as “joy joy.” It’s letting yourself feel vicarious joy for others. When we share our joy, our joy increases. The Buddha stated this well when he said, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
I have to remind myself of that because I worry by sharing my good news people will judge me, one-up me, or try to tear me down. Thus far they haven’t, probably because I’m not famous and I don’t surround myself with jerks. It could also be that I engage in freudenfreude regularly. I really and truly celebrate when others celebrate. Seeing their joy brings me joy and perhaps that’s why it’s coming back to me. Together, we are multiplying happiness.
I dream of a world where we celebrate each other’s wins. A world where we practice freudenfreude more than its opposite. A world where we remember happiness doesn’t decrease when it’s shared, instead it’s multiplied.
Another world is not only possible, it’s probable.