happiness at the fortunes of others


Not pictured.

Schadenfreude, as everyone knows, is German for “happiness at the misfortune of others.” (I know some puppets and a super who would be happy to tell you more.) As I see it, there are three antonyms for this: the pain you feel at the joy of others (envy) and the pain you feel at the pain of others (empathy).

But the third is the best one. I found a few different terms when I googled for “happiness at the joy of others.” Wikipedia suggests the Sanskrit term mudita, a state of joy emblemized by the joy a parent feels in their child’s accomplishments. A few other sites suggest the term compersion, although that appears to be a fairly specific word for the joy at a loved one’s loving relationship with someone else; it’s used in the polyamory community.

Personally, I like mitfreude best. It literally translates to “with-joy,” and it makes the connection to the better-known term schadenfreude immediately obvious. It’s not to be confused with the feeling of pride, which is joy in the success of something you had something to do with, though I think the feelings frequently overlap. Mitfreude is joy in someone else’s success where your interests don’t enter into it. It’s something I’ve been feeling a lot recently.

It’s Thanksgiving. It’s my one day off this week. I’m really stressed out about a few creative things I’m working on. I’m drinking coffee and psyching myself up for a day of putting in work on the arts that I love, which is still work and therefore hard even though I know the end result will be worth it. I have never cooked a Thanksgiving meal in my life, but I imagine people who do have a similar feeling about the work they do to put together a spread for their family and friends.

But I wanted to take a few minutes here in the morning, still cozy in my blankets, to think about thankfulness and mitfreude. To think about how thankful I am for my friends and family, near and far. How happy I am to see friends posting pictures on Facebook and Instagram of the pies they’re baking and the turkeys they’re roasting. Social media haters to the left — I like seeing the pride and pleasure on the faces of my friends across the country as they display their accomplishments with a carefully chosen filter and a #blessed in the caption.

How thankful I am for this last year, where I was challenged creatively and given some dream opportunities — all of which contributed in one way or another to the current opportunities that I’m working on, so, you know, bless this stress. And how happy I am to see my friends, new and old, pursuing their own amazingly cool opportunities. Folks on stage, on screens big and small, on the page, on the web, behind the scenes, behind the desk, making the world better and brighter and more beautiful in ways big and small.

How thankful I am for my health. (Tuesday I scheduled an appointment to get braces — for the third time — to fix some messed-up teeth, and I was pretty overjoyed because I was fully expecting to be told I’d need surgery. If you’d told twelve-year-old me I’d be thankful for braces, I’d have told you you were nuts.)

How happy I am in the happiness of others today, and how thankful I am to be able to share it. How thankful I am for the people who have shown me respect and patience and kindness and generosity. How thankful and hopeful I am that I can extend those same things to others, albeit imperfectly.

I know holidays are hard for a lot of people, this year or every year, and I hope that no matter how you’re celebrating or not celebrating today, that you are warm and well-fed and relaxed. I’m thankful for you.

Be Well