Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Schadenfreude and the Law of Attraction

(This blog was originally posted on March 14, 2016)

Photo by Rick Hustead

There is a scene in International Velvet when a horse on a rival Olympic team knocks down a pole and incurs a points-error. When the protagonist’s aunt Velvet sees the error on television, she shouts, “Good!” The opponent’s error has made a little more room for her niece, Sarah, to secure a team gold medal if she can get around the course without making any mistakes. (Of course, she does.) But that doesn’t happen before Velvet’s partner, John, raises an eyebrow and comments, “That’s not very sporting of you!”


I came across this word in the context of the plot in A Trick of the Light, a novel by Louise Penny, which I finished reading a few weeks ago. Basically, it means “deriving pleasure from someone else’s misfortune.” In the book, one of the characters is finally enjoying the critical recognition of her talent at a private show for her paintings, followed by a celebratory barbecue at her home. However, her husband and some friends discover the body of a former friend/enemy their garden the following day. The artist wants to celebrate the success of her show and budding career, but she feels guilty about wanting her art to be lauded even after the crime that happened in front of her home. Perhaps more disturbing to her is the eventual realization that her husband, a successful artist, has actually been jealous of her talent for many years and secretly hoped that the murder might derail her success a little bit. 

In addition to the scenarios described above, Urban Dictionary lists several common examples of this experience: hearing someone shout “Hold the door!” while running for an elevator, only to reach the lift just as the door shuts. Or, a straight-A student missing one question on a five-question quiz to bring the test score down to a B (80 percent). How about when the quarterback on the opposing team gets sacked after preventing your team from scoring a touch-down? Another example might be watching the value of a company’s stock shares plummet right after you have been fired. And so on.

It is not uncommon or even unnatural to feel happy about or want to get a small bit of compensation for our own misfortune. But, how “good” does it really feel? Does it make you feel happy? Relieved? Or, do you scramble for all of the reasons why the other person deserved this misfortune or inconvenience so you can justify feeling good about it? Human emotions can be very tricky things. They can be accompanied by physiological sensations such as palpitations, change in breathing, trembling, etc. Sometimes censorial thoughts from the conscious mind (and conscience) intrude on these celebrations, too: Why do I feel good about someone else feeling bad?

Try this simple technique to get a different perspective about what is going on inside and around you: Draw a deep, calming breath and hold this air in your lungs for four seconds. Do not think about the situation, your emotions or why you think/imagine you felt the way you do or did when the situation first occurred. Instead, focus your attention on your breath and someone or something that brings you a lot of love and joy. Perhaps it is your spouse, or your kids, a pet, your job, a hobby, etc. Then, as you exhale, release the breath on the word love. Repeat this exercise several times to reinforce this positive direction of your attention. 

In his book, Success Is Not an Accident: The Mental Bank Concept, Hypnosis Motivation Institute founder John Kappas, Ph.D., explains how the mental scripts we program into our subconscious mind determine the outcome of our actions. Whether we imagine a positive or negative result, the SCM follows that subconscious mental script to actualize the goal you “want.” When we focus on enjoying the negative outcome another person is experiencing, we may also be reinforcing a subconscious desire for a similar negative event to happen to us. Conversely, when we send out positive, encouraging energy to celebrate another person’s success, we are also telling the subconscious mind, I want success, too! Whether that success includes getting into an elevator before the door closes or celebrating your partner’s triumphant art show, wishing another person well is more likely to attract good things to you than the temporary pleasure of schadenfreude ever could.

For more information about the Law of Attraction, I invite you to read my blog titled Intuition and the Law of Attraction and check out the book resources on this topic in Suggested Reading.

Sara R. Fogan, C.Ht. is a certified hypnotherapist based in Southern California. She graduated with honors from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in 2005. For more information about Calminsense Hypnotherapy® and to set up an appointment, please visit
© 2017