Taking pleasure in others’ misfortune is a common practice — so much so that there’s a German word for it.
But what if you reject schadenfreude and commit to taking pleasure in others’ joy instead?
As a growing body of research shows, this approach to life supports not only other people’s happiness but your own. Researchers have even coined a new term to describe it: Freudenfreude.
(“Freude” is German for joy.)
Here’s why Freudenfreude beats a negative outlook, plus tips for how to better share joy with others in your own life.
Empathy makes us feel good.
We usually think of empathy as the ability to detect another person’s mental state — but according to social scientists, this is just one component of empathy.
The other two are 1) mentalizing, or making inferences about another person’s feelings and 2) experience sharing, where we imagine ourselves going through the same emotions.
Not every experience of empathy will have all three components. But because these different facets of empathy act on different parts of our brain, empathic behavior stimulates healthy brain activity.
Empathy also produces an immediate mood boost. Just getting the opportunity to be empathetic increases well-being. And actually practicing empathy ups well-being even further.
We empathize more with positive emotions.
While it can be helpful to offer empathy when someone is going through a tough time, we might be wired to pay more attention to others’ positive feelings.
A 2021 study found that in people’s daily lives, they see far more opportunities to empathize with other people’s positive emotions than negative ones: 3x as many, in fact. The researchers said:
Empathy for positive emotions is a more common and more extensive experience than empathy for negative emotions.
Positive emotions make us stronger.
A possible reason why we seek out positivity in others is that it helps us in both the present and the future.
Feeling good in the moment is just the tip of the iceberg. Frequently experiencing positive emotions also appears to build resilience — supporting us through both mild and severe stressors moving forward.
So, with the benefits of empathy firmly established, how can you bring more awareness of other people’s joy into your life? Psych professor and Freudenfreude expert Catherine Chambliss has these tips to offer:
Really listen to what others are sharing.
In any conversation, it’s tempting to just nod and smile until it’s your time to speak. But empathy begins with active listening. That means making eye contact in an in-person conversation, or setting distractions aside if you’re talking on the phone.
Seek out joy in other people.
Not everyone feels comfortable sharing their wins out of fear that it will be perceived as bragging. You can get people to come out of their shell by asking smart questions. One example: invite them to talk about the best part of their day or week.
Give credit where it’s due.
Chambliss and her colleagues call this “bragitude” — deliberately giving credit to other people for the positive impact they had on your life. It can be anything, even something inconsequential like enjoying a TV show someone recommended.
How are you celebrating joy this holiday season?
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.