Your misery, my happiness.

So two posts in and I’m already feeling a malaise over what to write for this next post. I think this is the point where people suggest to just put words on the screen, no matter what the content. After all, I can’t expect to regularly know what to write if I do not write regularly. I think part of this uncertainty is also not knowing or having a good voice or structure to my writing. Who knows? What I do know is I am going to put words on page.

I’ve given some thought about this post and had several ideas come to mind, but nothing that is moving me currently. So I’ll just touch on the first idea that came to mind a couple of weeks back.

This topic came to me while watching college football bowl games around New Years. I noticed that fans took an unusual amount of joy in the failure of the other team, but more importantly, the opposing fan’s misery. I sat there thinking, “Why isn’t it enough to be happy for your team?”. Why do people seem happiest when bathing in other’s misery?

Schadenfreude is not a new concept. The word is German in origin, but the concept is accepted quite possibly worldwide and may be as old as our species. Despite its prevalence throughout history, it seems that its usage as an instrument of happiness is growing. And well, maybe it’s not a huge problem in the context of football and sports in general, but maybe sports are training us to behave this way in other venues in life.

Think about how many of us emotionally react to the election process. Right away, we start off with a dichotomy. Conservatives vs. Liberals. We already have to adversaries pitted against each other. But if stripped down to the bare bones, what we really end up with in the eyes of many is red team vs. blue team. They even come complete with mascots (elephant vs. donkey).

After the election, many avoided contact with social media. However, if you were brave enough to wade into those waters, what you found was no surprise. As with any other election, there was a sea of celebration for one team. However, this particular celebration felt different to me. This celebration was largely composed of one team finding complete joy in the misery of the other team. There was little in the way of celebrating policy victories. It was a house party built on the foundation of the misery of other people.

It really did feel like one team had made all the right plays to win the game, yet a botched punt at the end of the game was turned into a last minute touchdown and win for the other team. And the team that won the game, their fans seemed to have very little interest in winning the championship. Instead their happiness felt solely derived from the gut punch the other fans just received.

So I guess the point of this post is to remind myself to evaluate why I’m happy when things happen in my life that make me happy. Is it because I am celebrating good fortune come my way? Or am I treating life like a football game and deriving my joy from seeing thousands of fans in full ‘surrender cobra’? I think one of these approaches is quite vapid, while the other may lead to greater fulfillment of happiness in my own life.

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