Schadenfreude and Mudita: Two Very Different Ways of Viewing the World

Here in Virginia, some call it “The Crab Theory.”

In Germany, it’s known as Schadenfreude. It means, “enjoying the misfortune of others.”

Growing up on an estuary off the Elizabeth River, we often went crabbing. And we learned that if you put a lone crab in a bucket, that crab will do all within its power to climb out of that bucket. The trick is to put two or more crabs into your bucket. When one starts to climb out, the other crabs will snag him and pull him back down.

Sadly, there are times when homo sapiens behave more like crabs than human beings.

Years ago, I really struggled and prayed to overcome envious thoughts and feelings. One day, I saw an article in the Christian Science Sentinel about a woman who’d spent decades truly cultivating the habit of gratitude. According to the article, her mother had taught her – by word and deed – that she should learn how to feel genuinely grateful when good things happen to other people, because each “good thing” was a divine promise that, “If it happened for them, it can happen for me, too.”

Buddhists call this Mudita. It’s the practice (and discipline) of finding joy in other people’s happiness and success.

In the anonymous, faceless world of the internet, I’ve noticed that people sometimes engage in very negative behaviors, saying things that are better left unsaid. In short, they’re behaving more like angry crabs than intelligent human beings!

I’m starting to wonder if the anonymity of the internet is making us a little too callous with our words. There are those who seem to delight in “pulling others down,” rather than lifting them up.

Saint Teresa of Ávila (1515-1582) is credited with saying that the “kindest thing we can do for our heavenly Father is to be kind to His children.”

I don’t think Saint Teresa of Ávila would be a fan of the ugliness that sometimes appears online. 

Imagine how much sweeter the world could be if we practiced the discipline of “mudita” in all of our communications, both online and in person.

Maybe we need to abandon the crabby habit of schadenfreude and work on cultivating the saintly habit of mudita.

Dogs know a lot about love and joy. Even when theyre forced to wear silly hats.

Dogs know a lot about love and joy. Even when they're forced to wear silly hats.

To learn about Sears Homes (a very happy topic), click here.

To see more pictures of my cute dog, click here.

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