Vicarious joy: Find your Freudenfreude
Freudenfreude and schadenfreude are German words that describe complex emotions. The former celebrates and shares in the success of others, while the latter finds pleasure in others’ struggles or failures. Human beings are naturally (and evolutionarily) competitive and while healthy competition can be motivating, in excess it can trigger feelings of envy or worse schadenfreude. On the other hand, we are also driven to connect and create a sense of shared community, which supports the value of freduenfreude both individually and collectively.
Shortly after reading about freudenfreude, I saw it action. At a school BBQ, my oldest daughter and her best friend recounted the recent events of track and field. My daughter showed me a video of her ‘bestie’ winning the 100-metre race. In the video you can hear my daughter screaming with excitement for her friend’s win. Looking at them sharing the story you could see happiness and pride emanating from them both. An interesting tidbit about my daughter is she is a talented athlete and fiercely competitive. Yet, when her friend excelled in a sport, she did not feel envious, she was joyous. We can celebrate the accomplishments of another and use it to inspire us in our own goals and purpose.
Brene Brown discusses freudenfreude in her book ‘Atlas of the Heart’ and uses a lovely analogy of protecting and celebrating each other’s ‘light’. She states, “good friends aren’t afraid of your light [and] they never blow out your flame”. I am so proud of how my daughter celebrated the light of her friend and want to encourage and nurture this in myself and others.
Freudenfreude has been found to be good for our mental wellness and relationships. In fact, research has found that ‘Freudenfruede Enhancement Training’ (yes this exists!) focuses on:
1. building active listening skills
2. asking questions to highlight interest
3. expressing genuine gratitude and happiness when others share their successes and achievements.
Discovering this type of joy not only strengthens our relationships with others, but also with ourselves. Both positive and negative emotions are contagious, so when we share in the happiness of another person's good fortune, we are likely to experience these wonderful feelings vicariously.
 Brown, B (2021). Atlas of the Heart. Penguin Random House LLC, New York, NY.  Brown, B (2021). Atlas of the Heart. Penguin Random House LLC, New York, NY, p. 36.  Chambliss, C. (2018). The Role of Freudenfruede and Schadenfreude in Depression. World Journal of Psychiatry and Mental Health Research, 2 (1), 1009.  Chambliss, C. (2018). The Role of Freudenfruede and Schadenfreude in Depression. World Journal of Psychiatry and Mental Health Research, 2 (1), 1009.  Hatfield, E., Bensman, L, Thorton, P.D., Rapson, R.L. (2014). New Perspectives on emotional contagion: A review of classic and recent research on facial mimicry and contagion. Interpersona: An International Journal of Personal Relationships, 8(2), 159-179.