Relationship Tips

‘Freudenfreude’ Is the Joyful Opposite of ‘Schadenfreude’ That Can Level Up All Your Relationships

Photo: Getty Images/Carina König/EyeEm
Obviously, you want to surround yourself with people who want the best for you; those who relish in your struggles or even misery simply aren't team members you need making up your starting lineup for tackling life. But while it would be wise to avoid those who are prone to schadenfreude—the German term that describes that aforementioned sense of deriving joy from the struggles of others—it would behoove you to search for folks in your life who embody its opposite, freudenfreude, or taking joy in other people’s successes. Psychologists say freudenfreude can actually level up your relationships rather than compromise them.

Freudenfreude functions kind of like vicariously living through someone else’s wins—like when they get a new job, find their lifelong partner, or even simply finish a task on their to-do list. A few examples of schadenfreude, on the other hand, include laughing at someone when they get hurt, being happy that someone has been fired from their job, and smiling when you hear something bad happened to someone you’re not so fond of. Given that the two are opposite concepts, one tends to show up in the other's absence.

Freudenfreude functions kind of like vicariously living through someone else’s wins—like when they get a new job, find their lifelong partner, or even simply finish a task on their to-do list.

According to research, a great way to pinpoint someone as fitting into more of the freudenfreude framework (as opposed to schadenfreude) is to look for signs of empathy, a trait that psychotherapist Aimee Daramus, PsyD, says is key to maintaining healthy relationships. That is, people who can empathetically feel your wins are likely to help you feel even better about them.

But how, exactly, does freudenfreude lead to deepening a relationship? It has to do with providing healthy support in positive times just as much as in trying times, says Dr. Daramus. Think about it: The very notion of "leaning on a friend for support in times of need" implies that support is largely only needed when things are tough. But that's not the case—it's important to celebrate wins, too. “There are happy moments,” says Dr. Daramus. It's great when friends are available to help sort out problems and stressors, but we also need to clock the successes as well, she adds.

While certain folks may be predisposed to practicing freudenfreude, it's also something anyone can learn and mindfully introduce into their relationships by letting loved ones know when they're proud of or happy for them. And the more you express those feelings, the more adept you may become at experiencing them period. “Your attitudes toward life shift when you really take time out to pay as much attention to the good things that are happening as much as to the bad things,” Dr. Daramus says.

This mindset shift reflects the personal gains you stand to enjoy as a result of embracing freudenfreude. “When we have genuine joy for someone's success, they not only get to lean in and enjoy their success more—it also builds more of a social fabric of people who will be there for you when you have successes,” says clinical psychologist Ramani Durvasula, PhD.

To mindfully practice freudenfreude, first be observant and then make a note to celebrate the good things that are happening to folks around you. One main component to keep in mind is that no success is too small. “Find the little successes that you can really reward, reinforce, and acknowledge in a person,” Dr. Durvasula says. People notice you noticing and realize that their efforts make a difference, she adds, which might be enough motivation to keep striving for success.

Not sure how to get started if freudenfreude feels unnatural to you? Have a conversation with a friend, and ask them what they’re currently proud of themselves for doing. Dr. Durvasula adds a question to get the ball rolling: “What is something good that happened to you today?” (Low-pressure, but still impactful in terms of freudenfreude material.)

Once you know the positive things going on in someone’s life (that they, themselves are happy about, no less), try taking the meaning of freudenfreude a little further by setting up a time to celebrate those precious accomplishments. This not just shows your pals that you’re proud of them for their wins, but it also “builds a list of everything good that is happening not just to us, but around us,” says Dr. Daramus. And who couldn’t use more good in their life?

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