Schadenfreude or Mudita?

The Germans call it schadenfreude.  Here in Virginia, we call it “The Crab Theory.”

Schadenfreude means – quite literally – delighting in the misfortune of others. I came across this wonderful word when I was writing my book, The Ugly Woman’s Guide to Internet Dating: What I Learned From 70 First Dates.

If you put one crab in a five-gallon bucket, that lone crab will do everything in his power to crawl out of that bucket. But, if you place two or more crabs in one bucket, the other crabs will grab anyone who tries to get out, and pull him back down.

Unfortunately, humans sometime act a lot like crabs.

In my own life, I’ve struggled mightily with envy, and sometimes, I’ve leaned more toward the schadenfreude side.

And then one day, I read a story in the Christian Science Sentinel about a woman who’d spent a lifetime cultivating the habit of gratitude. The article said that her mother had set a wonderful example, teaching her to feel sincerely joyous and grateful for the good things that happened in other people’s lives. This wise mother had taught her little girl that when good things happened to others, it could be viewed as a personal promise from God that, if it happened for them, it could happen for her, too.

The Buddhist call this Mudita. It’s the habit of finding joy in other people’s happiness.

The morning news is frequently awash in salacious and scurrilous scandals involving celebrities and their ilk. Somehow it seems like it’s just human nature to want to “read all about it” when a wealthy, gorgeous and famous celebrity has something crummy happen in their lives.

Yet it’s in our divine nature to flip that around and stop staring so hard at other people’s sins and take a better look at our own shortcomings.. Maybe we need to stop cultivating the habit of schadenfreude and work on mudita.

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Back in the day, seems like society worked harder on cultivating the habit of gratitude. Perhaps it was because life was so difficult, that any opportunity to find a spot of joy - in your life or anyone else's life - was readily seized upon. By the way, this is a picture of my relatives (found amongst my late father's possessions), but I don't know who these folks are. I suspect it's a picture of Homer Hoyt's parents. Homer was my great, great grandfather.

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