Schadenfreude: The Cure For What Ails You

While putting this post together, I discovered a new word. A BIG word. It was a big, multi-syllabic word. And I absolutely love learning new and big, multi-syllabic words! I love it so much, in fact, that I had to use it in the title. So here goes… The dictionary defines the German word “schadenfreude” as: satisfaction or pleasure felt at someone else’s misfortune.

Last Tuesday night I was in a bit of a mood. I came home, wandered around the house like a lost puppy and plopped, sullenly, onto the floor. I wondered if perhaps changing out of my work clothes would make me feel better. I selected a warm sweatshirt, about two sizes too big, a pair of soft, velour pants and my coziest, fuzziest socks.

“Yes, I think this will help.” I told myself. But as I tried to remove the clothes I WAS wearing… I threw a miniature hissy fit when my blouse got stuck around my shoulders. “GET OFF OF ME!!” I screamed at the stubborn garment while tugging wildly and jumping around. It’s a miracle I didn’t rip it apart at the seams. When I was finally free from it’s death-grip, I flung it on the bed and stomped my feet with extra fervor like some form of bodily punctuation.

All evening I could not shake free of the funk’s torment as successfully as I had the blouse. Wherever I went—fuzzy socks and all—“the mood” went with me. What in the world was the matter with me? Nothing negative of note had happened during the course of the day. So why then, was I so… frazzled? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that it gets DARK an hour after I get home? That’s it! Maybe I have SAD (seasonal affective disorder)! Ah-Ha!… finally a scapegoat for which to blame the day’s general malaise.

Both Lee and Stan looked at me quizzically as I slogged through the motions of the end of the day. I’m sure they figured it had something to do with being female and wanted no part of it. Finally, around nine o’clock, I decided that “the mood” wasn’t going to lift anytime soon and perhaps it was best just to surrender. There would be no cheering up on this day. Or so I thought when I went to bed and flipped on the TV… And discovered the beginning of a brand new season of Hoarders!

Think what you will. Judge if you must. But I believe that this program (and so many like it) was created for the very purpose of helping US feel better about ourselves. You know, all the reality shows centered around such crippling addictions, strange behaviors, eccentricities and odd proclivities that they make us feel like we’ve truly got it all together?

I am convinced that there is nothing that quite lifts a person’s spirits as much as witnessing the suffering, insanity and lunacy of countless, anonymous others willing to put their “crazy” on display for the world to see. Schadenfreude in it’s purest, money-making form. Why else would these programs be such a huge hit if it weren’t so therapeutic to watch the personal, intimate struggles of others?

And if you think I am a horrible person for making this hideous (but true) public admission or you already knew the meaning of the word schadenfreude, then by all means you definitely ought to come away from this reading experience feeling better about yourself… for you are more intelligent and sensitive and not NEARLY as shallow and insane as me. And doesn’t that brighten YOUR day?

Addicted to Drama

At the advent of reality TV, I thought myself better than everyone else because I refused to watch shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette or any of those other programs showcasing cheesy, forced romance and contrived drama.

I did not count my personal favorites—Survivor and The Amazing Race—in the ridiculously-fake-reality-TV category. I told myself (and everyone else) that I enjoyed those shows because they highlighted adventure in exotic, faraway lands.

Was I at all addicted to the “drama” that took place on beaches and jungles on the opposite side of the globe? Maybe. Because now there is a wee bit of evidence supporting the theory that I, just like everyone else, most likely was.

I have recently developed a slight addiction to a certain show that has made me question my self-proclaimed exemption from the desire for drama-on-display. The show is Hoarders. And I am actually rather obsessed with it. Like a horrific car crash by the side of the road or gruesome crime scene photos shown on Dateline, I cannot seem to look away. I find myself consistently drawn in by the ewwww-factor and the UGH-factor and the oh-this-is-so-absolutely-sad-and-disgusting-and-unbelievable factor.

I have long been fascinated by the inner workings of the human psyche. And based on ratings alone, I am not the only one. Let’s be honest… you’re Norman Rockwell neighbors, working 8 to 5 and grilling out on the weekends don’t exactly make for an interesting case study. But your crazy lady-next-door-with-a-million-cats-and-60-tons-of-trash-on-her-front-lawn kinda does.

Questions spring to mind such as: Why is he or she like that? What is wrong with them that they feel the need to cling to dead squirrels, pre-WWII cans of tuna or rotted jars of peanut butter? When are they going to tire of climbing over laundry, furniture and pizza boxes to get to their toothbrush? How are they OK with rats and roaches running rampant over heaps and piles of junk collecting in every nook and cranny of their living spaces?

I’m not sure if it is a form of escapism, or a way for us to affirm our own “normalness” as we watch others so tragically struggle just to keep both feet on the ground. Perhaps it is nothing more than our innate voyeuristic nature at work. But one thing is for sure… As long as there are humans on this planet and television cameras rolling, we will tune in and watch other people’s drama (be it real or fabricated) while it unfolds before us in our living rooms, with the curtains drawn and a bowl of popcorn in our lap.