Happy for You (Really)

December 7, 2022

I read an interesting article in The New York Times online the other day, about something the author called “freudenfreude,” the opposite of “schadenfreude." Schadenfreude is defined as "taking pleasure in someone else’s misfortune" (“how the mighty have fallen!” said with glee). I’m not a ninny; I know it’s not uncommon in human nature to feel this way periodically. And, full disclosure, I have felt a smidge of it myself at times--not when someone is actually suffering, mind you, but when their charmed life hits a little snag. Not proud of myself, but there it is.

True to form, the comments section lit up, with quite a few can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees folks taking exception to the word “freudenfreude” itself. “But it isn’t even really German—it’s a made-up word!” they huffed. Others offered instead the Buddhist word “mudita,” which, it turns out, means the exact same thing. I kept getting back to: who cares what it’s called? Celebrating others’ good fortune, might just save the world.

Think about it. Why are there wars? Simple answer: I want what you have. I’m not happy until you suffer. Why is there such absurd disparity between the top 1% of the population and the rest of us? Billionaires could shed many of their billions, while still keeping so many more, by feeding the world’s hungry and housing the homeless. Yet many choose not to. Are they actively pleased that others are in need? I'm sure not. But there is, there has to be, a large degree of indifference. In both of these situations, our fellow humans are either wished the worst, or else ignored entirely. 

My good writer friend Robin sold a terrific piece today, to a wonderful online magazine that is one of my dream publications. Her essay is a perfect fit for the site, and I am genuinely delighted for her. In this case, my “freudenfreude” (or whatever it’s called) comes easily; Robin is a lovely person, and has been a huge supporter of me and my writing. But before I got a cramp from patting myself on the back, I forced myself to imagine someone I truly dislike, someone who has been really unkind to me, achieving similar success. How would I feel then? 

That, my friends, is the real test. It’s the Jesus test. Love your enemies. In practice, wish them well. Celebrate them. Wish them into a better place. Be a mirror for them, reflecting a more enlightened, happier, peaceful way of being. And if they don’t respond in kind, you’ve made it a better world just by trying.

How do we spread love and joy in the often loveless and joyless place where we find ourselves? Can we ever make this the Peaceable Kingdom, lion and lamb lying down together? 

We have a lousy track record, but I haven’t lost faith yet. Deep down I believe most of us WANT to live in a world where we are truly happy for each other. 

It sure beats the alternative.


    I am an author (of five books, numerous plays, poetry and freelance articles,) a retired director (of Spiritual Formation at a Lutheran church,) and a producer (of five kids).

    I write about my hectic, funny, perfectly imperfect life.

    Please visit my website: or email me at



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