Almost the Opposite of Schadenfreude

Surely there should be a Germanic compound word for this — not the shameful joy one takes in someone else’s suffering, but the feeling best captured by that Gore Vidal line, “Whenever a friend of mine succeeds, a little something in me dies.” The Times gets it, though their coinage — Erfolgtraurigkeit, or success-sadness — leaves much to be desired. As the headline has it, though, the happiness of those around you can’t help but shine a klieg light on all of the depressing aspects of your own life. Or maybe it’s not true for you. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe that, right there, is one of those awful bits of my life thrown into high relief by the success of my pals, for whom I insist that I really am ecstatically happy, even as I bear a flame in the gut that’s either excruciating jealousy or really bad heartburn. Maybe it’s just evidence that I am, in fact, a bad person, one who doesn’t deserve those kinds of happiness. And that’s where the little something in me dies, where the Vidal-factor comes in: not in being jealous of my successful friends, but in the spiral produced by the conviction that I’m a jerk for being jealous. Surely there’s a good solid eight-syllable word for the soul-killing mixture of happiness, jealousy, and shame produced by someone else’s good fortune?

10 responses to “Almost the Opposite of Schadenfreude”

  1. Indeed, there must be a word – I certainly don’t know what it is, though, in spite of the fact that I, too, suffer from this on a VERY large scale, especially of late. I’m with you on the jealousy and the “F*?!-why-can’t-this-be-ME” front. We are NOT jerks, though (at least I can say with complete confidence that YOU are most definitely not…the jury’s still out on me). We just want to be as happy as our friends are, especially since we work just as hard and deserve it just as much…and we really do deserve it just as much. We’re just a bit more unlucky in this regard. (That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.)

    My mother would say that our lack of “luck” or success in certain areas is all part of God’s master plan for us. We’re strong people and we can handle the pain more than others. Does that kind of argumentation make YOU feel any better?

  2. Oh, heck, I have to expand: I actually have been lucky, in many ways. Exceedingly lucky. Lucky in ways that others would gladly trade for. But I suffer from a pronounced case of “yesbut.” As in, “yes, but what I have accomplished lately?” Or, “yes, but why can’t I have a full year’s sabbatical?” Or, “yes, but I’m still carrying around that five pounds.” Or any number of others, some of which I’m sure you can imagine. I do count my blessings, and all that. It’s just that there are some of those “yesbuts” that are harder to live with than others.

    And if god’s master plan for me actually involves all the crap I’ve had to deal with ON PURPOSE, the payoff better be BIG. And that’s all I’m saying.

  3. I just found out (via an old copy of Spin magazine lying around at the gym) that a fellow awkward nerd I remember from junior high school is in an “up and coming” band that’s already an “underground” favorite in the UK.


  4. Envy (which is not a synonym for jealousy) might be the less than eight-syllable word you may have at the tip of your tonuge. Begrudge is close but not quite (indicates a reluctance to admit or admire the success of others). Covet is too tied to the desire for the possession of others. Jealousy is etymologically related to zeal. In my Canadian dictionary, Houghton Mifflin 1982, envy is only mentioned in the fifth of the definitions for jealousy: “Concerning or arising from feelings of envy, apprehension, or bitterness: _jealous thoughts_.” Interesting conjunction of future fears and past regrets. Envy is etymologically related to the act of looking upon. And so a little German fun: eye glut — das Augensstat “full eyes” as in “my eyes have feasted fully upon their success”. Satiation is a far less morally charged category than envy. It also applies to the woes and miseries of the contemplated. One can get full of sad stories too.

  5. Oh, and now I find out that two of my colleagues were tapped for a previously unnanounced university award for “excellence in research” (with no application and a mysterious nomination process) that comes with a $5,000 prize.

    Erfolgtraurigkeit indeed.

    In fact, I think this entry has opened up an emotional Pandora’s box filled with bags of cats and cans of worms and other such things that should not see the light of day.

  6. And another thing: maybe it shows just what a scummy, selfish person I really am, but I do not “insist that I really am ecstatically happy” nor do I berate myself for my “excruciating jealousy.” I just think to myself, over and over again, “I could’ve really used that $5,000.”

    I guess I’ll just have to make sure that my research is more excellent in the future and that whoever’s in charge of nominating people for moneyed prizes notices.

    / end rant

  7. Everyone could use the $5,000, particularly people who live on like $1 a day, whiner. Get some perspective. Life is unfair and you’re doing way better than most who have ever lived.

  8. Point taken, cm.

    (Although I can’t help but add that I was responding in the spirit of the original entry, which was all about those moments “of happiness, jealousy, and shame produced by someone else’s good fortune” and not about, say, having a balanced sense of fairness.)

  9. […] confess to having a very bad case of “yeah, but what have I accomplished lately,” something against which I’ve struggled pretty much my […]


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