Being Grateful: Is It always Schadenfreude?

It’s just one of the Prophet’s (PBUH) sayings that basically means to look at those less fortunate in terms of worldly wealth so we can appreciate more of what we have, of what God has bestowed upon us. I can’t imagine he (PBUH) says it now, knowing how people would judge him and think it’s schadenfreude…

It’s been on my mind for a while. I’ve been thinking about this since some time ago, this thing called Schadenfreude. I often see people trying to be grateful or thankful for their life by realizing that there are others that are less fortunate, and then some people would label this as Schadenfreude. I just can’t seem to get why they label them Schadenfreude when they are just stating the facts and trying to brace themselves, get back up, and be grateful. I’m not sure if I explained it clearly, but, for example, some people would say something like this:

“I should be thankful that I have this meal, others are starving.”
“Appreciate what you have, many people wish to have it.”
“I don’t have a car, but at least I have this bike, some people don’t have both.”

Would you call out these people and say it’s schadenfreude? Well, it’s because some people do call these people out saying “we don’t have to romanticize others’ poverty to be grateful about our life”, “we shouldn’t be happy about others’ misfortune”, “looking at others’ poor life to be thankful is just feeding your ego”, etc. and I just don’t get how their logic jumps into such conclusions.

I mean, how fucked up can you be to not be able to distinguish between, “My life is hard but it was harder and it’s harder for others too; I should be thankful” and “I’m glad that their life is hard”? The two are completely different and saying the first does not in any way imply the second! Gosh.

But, okay, first of all, let’s see what Schadenfreude means. According to, “Schadenfreude is a complex emotion, where rather than feeling sympathy towards someone’s misfortune, schadenfreude evokes joyful feelings that take pleasure from watching someone fail.” In Merriam-webster’s online dictionary, it is stated that “Schadenfreude is a compound of the German nouns Schaden, meaning “damage” or “harm,” and Freude, meaning “joy,” so it makes sense that schadenfreude means joy over some harm or misfortune suffered by another.” So, would it be safe to conclude that Schadenfreude means feeling happy for/because/when other people are suffering?

Schadenfreude for me is something like this: for instance, you don’t like Celebrity X. She’s pregnant but then she’s got a miscarriage. She’s sad because she’s been wanting to have a baby. But you’re happy to see she is sad, to see she is experiencing all of that, because you simply don’t like her, you don’t like seeing her happy. This is Schadenfreude. If you ever feel this way, learning about others’ misfortune and secretly feeling happy about it, then it is schadenfreude. But if you simply acknowledge that there are people that are less fortunate and that’s why you should be thankful, I don’t think this is Schadenfreude or feeding your ego at all.

Let’s go back to my examples:

“I should be thankful that I have this meal, others are starving.”
Does this mean I am happy that others are starving? No. I wish they were not starving! But if I am not being thankful for the meal I have knowing there are people starving out there, then what would that make me?
“I don’t have a car, but at least I have this bike, some people don’t have both.”
Does this mean I’m secretly happy that some people don’t have cars and bikes while I have one bike? No. I mean, what made you assume that I’m happy with the fact that they don’t have it when I say it? Like, where’s the connection? Where’s the logic? For God’s sake. Why do we always misinterpret others’ good intention for our own agenda?

Look, I agree with all of their arguments: that we should not look down on those less fortunate people, that we should not feel superior just because we have more, that we should not romanticize others’ poverty to make us feel better, that we should not be happy with others’ suffering, etc. I agree with all of that. I won’t argue against it because I think so too, I hate those who look down on the less fortunate people too. It gets on my nerves when people feel superior too. Etc. I know how it all feels, so I won’t debate it.

BUT, what I can’t seem to agree is immediately judging people who say something like “I should be thankful that I have this meal, others are starving.” as Schadenfreude, accusing them of feeling happy about others’ misfortune, equating it with feeling superior or looking down on the less fortunate. I don’t agree with this. Because, again, they are two completely different matters. No matter what, we can still acknowledge the fact that there are poor people out there, feel thankful that our life is better, and still feel sad that theirs is not aka without feeling happy about their misfortune. So, it always makes me wonder, can’t those people who take “I should be thankful that I have this meal, others are starving” as Schadenfreude do it (i.e. acknowledging the fact that there are poor people out there, feeling thankful that our life is better, and still feeling sad that theirs is not aka without feeling happy about their misfortune)?

I just find it disturbing. Some people are just trying to be thankful and then there are some people out of nowhere labeling them and judging them that way, purposefully misinterpreting their words. I’m like, why? Why should you always find the wrong in everything?

Some people would say something like, “Well, if you compare it to your past self, that’s okay, but if you compare it to others, that’s not fine.” I’m like, “How hypocritical!” Well, even when I compare my present self to my own past self, it will still imply that I indirectly compare myself to others at the present time. How so? Well, let’s say that my life was harder back then, but there are some people whose life is as hard as my life was. Does it mean I’m happy that they ARE experiencing the hardship that I experiencED back then? No. When I say I’m thankful because my life was harder, does it mean I’m happy that my life was hard? Not necessarily so. Does it mean I’m happy that the lives of some people are now as hard? Again, no, why would you assume it that way? This is so simple, so why misunderstanding it thinking I’m looking down on them, happy with their hardship, etc? This is too messed up; you’re just making things up. For what? To make you feel better about yourself? I’m not judging, I’m seriously asking.

Some people would also say something like, “You can still be thankful without looking at others. For instance, you can be grateful that you can be with your family, you have your eyesight to see the world, you can breathe clean air, etc.” True. But you know what, whether you say it or not, it does not change the fact that “some people can’t be with their family, some people are blind and can’t see the world, some people can’t breathe clean air, etc.” You just don’t say it. Are you going to deny their existence? And, does this mean when you say it, it will automatically make it Schadenfreude? Will saying it automatically mean you’re happy with those facts happening to others? I don’t know if you, in fact, take it that way. But for me, no, it doesn’t always mean that way. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks like this.

And before you argue saying it’s toxic positivity and such, please, please know that it’s a completely different matter. I agree that “You should be thankful for having this meal, others are starving” can be considered toxic positivity in a certain context, i.e. invalidating your sadness and your wish to have a better meal just because others are starving is not right. I agree. You can be thankful and still feel sad, I know. But you know that’s not what we’re talking about here, right?

I just…I’m sorry if this writing does not comply with your way of thinking. You might think I’m just being defensive, and maybe you’re right. Still, I’m just hoping people would stop labeling and judging others, misinterpreting their words, etc. It’s not nice. People are just trying to be thankful, we don’t have to make them feel guilty about it. Some people are just trying to find some strength to endure their hardship knowing others have it worse, why make it difficult for them? It’s hard enough trying to be a good person doing the right thing without getting judged nowadays, so please don’t make it harder (especially when it’s just because you want to feel better about yourself thinking you know the right or truest way).

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