Do you suffer from gluckschmerz?

Thought I’d step away from goals and resolutions and share with you two new words I’ve learned recently. Gluckschmerz, a German word that means feeling unhappy about the good fortune of others; and Schadenfreude – yes, you guessed it – also German, which means feeling pleasure at the suffering of others.

Sadly, the English language doesn’t always have the panache of other languages! We’re left with envy – perhaps the feeling does deserve such a short and ugly word. Does it affect you? If so, does it motivate you to work harder to achieve what the other person has got? Or, does it drag you down and undermine your self confidence?

Professor Richard Smith, University of Kentucky, said envy:-

“Occurs when we lack another’s superior quality, achievement or possession and desire it or wish the other lacked it. When we envy, we feel inferior, longing, resentment and ill-will to the advantaged person.”

Not holding back he goes on to say “It’s socially repugnant; it can corrode the soul”. (The Times, London 5.1.08). So it deserves to be one of the seven deadly sins! But like all feelings and emotions, its how we deal with it that determines whether or not its destructive.

Envy can totally undermine your self confidence. But in every situation we encounter in life, there is always going to be someone who is that bit better than us, with a better suit/smile/figure/speaking voice/whatever (I’m assume whoever is perfect is too busy maintaining that perfection to have time to read this!).

At the same time, there will always be something you can do better than them. Arnold Schwarzenegger may have a better physique than me , but I can speak clearer English! And whilst his muscles may be better developed – he has exactly the same number of muscles as me – and I prefer to blog rather than pump iron. He may be Governor of California, but I don’t have a $14 billion budget deficit to sort out…

Don’t forget, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Whilst you may let yourself think someone is “better” than you (for instance “more attractive”, “taken a better photograph”) – others may disagree. I can genuinely say to all the women in my life that I cannot see anything attractive in anyone size “0”.

If your confidence is undermined by others ability to do something better than you – use them to your advantage. Lets imagine you envy someone who always appears perfectly at ease and confident in social situations. But you find yourself lacking confidence in situations where you have to talk to small groups of colleagues, perhaps address a meeting. So, imagine how your “perfect” person would do it.

Picture in your mind that person giving a talk in their “perfect”, confident way. Or have them addressing a meeting, putting across a point in an assertive manner. Now in your visualization allow an image of yourself to take over Mr Perfect. Imagine yourself delivering the talk in this “perfect”, confident way – or holding your ground in that meeting.

Visualization takes practice, and some will find it easier than others. With practice you can just visualize yourself doing something well, mentally rehearsing that talk, speech, golf swing, or whatever. But using those whose talents you envy as “role models” is another starting point. And you don’t have to pay them for the privilege!

Cheryl January 9, 2008 at 1:47 am

I love this article, it’s a really wonderful reminder that there’s plenty for everyone and when we’re envious we close ourselves off from the riches of the universe.

And being a lover of language, I was drawn in by the new words you just taught me, gluckschmertz and schadenfreude. I suppose one could make comparisons between schadenfreude and sadism, but that might be going a little too far with it.

Thank you!

Robert @ reason4smile January 9, 2008 at 11:09 am

Hi David, really liked this post! I’m now envying you how come you can have such a good post. =)

I blog about turning limitation into advantages, and this is really one of them, turn your envy into advantages!

Pretty sure that I will refer to this post from my blog in the future.

Use envy to make you a better person!
Thanks for the idea!

Never the Same River Twice January 9, 2008 at 5:06 pm

This is a little off topic, but the very funny Broadway musical Avenue Q has a song about Schadenfreude that is absolutely hilarious! That would make for a great follow-up post.

Anne-Marie January 9, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Thanks for posting about Gluckschmerz. I have a friend who “fell” into blogging and in less than 1/2 a year is doing amazingly well readership wise. I was happy for her but jealous thinking, ” But I found out that I’m doing better financially with my blogging than she is, so we’re both doing great and we should both be happy about it.

Still it’s nice to know that what I feel is completely normal..well enough that someone invented a word for it!

Karen (Karooch from Scraps of Mind) January 9, 2008 at 10:40 pm

I like the idea of your technique David. I’ll have to give it a try.

Maybe we use a short word like ‘envy’ because the German versions, though more picturesque, are more than our tongues can get around.

David January 9, 2008 at 10:57 pm

Thank you all for your positive comments – I must confess (1) I haven’t a clue how to pronounce either word (2) I confess I have suffered from both at times in the past, and haven’t always made use of them… I’ve never heard of “Avenue Q”, I will find out more about it.

Steven Burns January 30, 2009 at 5:17 pm

In my humble opinion, if you reduce Glückschmerz and Shadenfreude to simple Envy, you are missing one point.

Envy’s definition always involves the one who feels it: you want to deprive someone else of something you want for… you guessed… yourself. You could envy Arnold’s muscles, but you wouldn’t if you were twice as big. As you can see, Envy is a selfish feeling, it exists around the self.

Glückschmerz and Shadenfreude say nothing about the self. They just imply how you feel about someone else’s situation. Of course 99% of the people who feel them are just envious, that’s pretty obvious, but that’s not implied by their definition.

You could at least in theory find someone whose Glückschmerz and Shadenfreude are not related to envy and instead are purely sadistic. In this situation, you don’t care about whether you are twice as big as Arnold, you have more money or not or if you are happier. All you want is Arnold to suffer, to lose his muscles and be miserable, regardless of your current situation.

Again, it’s just my humble opinion and Arnold is used merely as an example (borrowed from your own text).

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