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Schadenfreude and Mudita

Ever hear of schadenfreude?  For years, I’d always called it, “The Crab Theory.”

Schadenfreude is a German word that means delighting in the misfortune of others. I had never heard of this word until I was doing some research for my book The Ugly Woman’s Guide to Internet Dating: What I Learned From 70 First Dates.

Put one crab in a five-gallon bucket and Mr. Crab will do everything in his power to scale its smooth wall and crawl out of that bucket. Put two or more crabs in a bucket and when one starts to climb up, the others will grab him and pull him back down into the bucket. Unfortunately, humans sometime exhibit the same tendencies as crabs.

In my own life, I’ve struggled mightily with envy, and I’m sorry to say that too many times, I had a decided leaning toward the crab/schadenfreude side.

And then one day, I read a story in the Christian Science Sentinel about a woman who’d spent a lifetime cultivating the habit of gratitude. She said that her mother had taught her to feel sincerely joyous and grateful for the good things that happened in other people’s lives, and to take it as a personal promise from God that, if it happened for them, it could happen for her, too.

The Buddhist have a word for this: Mudita. It’s the practice of finding joy in other people’s success and happiness.

The morning news is frequently awash in salacious and scurrilous scandals involving celebrities and their ilk. Yet we’re all “clay vessels,” and we’re all cracked pots and fallible and prone to foibles and missteps and mistakes and even lapses in good judgment. Who among us hasn’t lost our temper and said something we deeply regret? Who among us hasn’t surrendered to temptation when we could have done better? My point is, maybe the real need is to stop staring so hard at other people’s sins and take a better look at our own shortcomings and work on improving those.

Maybe we need to stop cultivating the habit of schadenfreude and work on mudita.

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