Shared Joy

I’ve always believed the old saying that goes something like, “Shared joy is doubled; shared sorrow is halved.”

I think that’s one reason why Facebook is so popular with my age group. Besides reconnecting with old friends, we trust them to share our joy and sorrow. I’ve seen countless pictures of cute grandchildren and pets and vacation spots. The ‘likes’ pile up on those photos. Others have posted about accidents and deaths of friends and family members, and the outpouring of sympathy is needed and helpful.

Many years ago a friend asked, “Why is it people are not pleased to hear good news about someone’s children? Didn’t people used to be happy for someone else?” She was never one to brag about her super smart daughters, but she shared an extraordinary accomplishment now and then because she was excited. When one daughter was accepted at an Ivy League school, she called to tell me the news, and I was thrilled for her. But everyone was not. She had discovered that some of her so-called friends were less than pleased about the prospect of her daughter going to a prestigious school when their children had not been accepted.

“Can’t people be happy for someone else?” she asked.

Yes, they can.

But there are those who cannot.

They not only don’t want to share someone’s joy, they don’t want to share the burden of their sorrow. They delight in it.

“Schadenfreude” (I pronounce it SHA den fror da, but I could be wrong.) is a word that means finding joy at someone’s misfortune. The German word breaks down into ‘Schaden’ (harm) plus ‘Freude’ (joy). Harm-joy. People who experience this want to celebrate when hearing about the troubles of others. Somehow it makes them feel superior. Mostly, I suspect, it makes them feel not so bad about their own failings.

I looked up synonyms for this awful word and found ‘envy’ and ‘gloating,’ but neither one conveys the same sinister feeling. I also discovered that there are similar words in other languages, so this feeling didn’t really originate in German speaking parts and then find a home in English speaking places. The feeling is worldwide.

I cannot cast the first stone. I’ve felt envy in my life, when I dwell on something wonderful that happened to someone else, but usually I wonder why not me, too, not why not me instead of you. My first reaction is ‘You lucky duck.”

But I don’t think envy quite works to express the negative connotation of Schadenfreude. I hope I’ve never felt joy at someone’s pain. The thought may have flickered through my mind that I was glad it wasn’t me or my family going through a bad trial of life, but I hope that was a fleeting thought. As a friend says when she hears of someone else’s troubles, “There but for the grace of God go me and thee.”

So I’ll continue to believe in that old saying that shared joy is doubled and shared sorrow is halved because it makes us better people. We are folks willing to listen, willing to share the good and the bad, willing to multiply the joy and lessen the sorrow.