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EMR0010.1177/1754073918790027Emotion ReviewHess Why Are Schadenfreude and Gluckschmerz Not Happiness or Anger


Emotion Review
Vol. 10, No. 4 (October 2018) 1­–2
© The Author(s) 2018
ISSN 1754-0739

Why Are Schadenfreude and Gluckschmerz Not

DOI: 10.1177/1754073918790027

Happiness or Anger? Or Are They?

Ursula Hess
Department of Psychology, Humboldt-University of Berlin, Germany

Abstract antecedent from one where good fortune falls to a disliked out-
group, leading to gluckschmerz, but this also could be sub-
This comment on Smith and van Dijk’s discussion of the antecedents and sumed under the heading of deservingness or fairness.
consequences of schadenfreude and gluckschmerz considers these emotions In most versions of appraisal theory (Ellsworth & Scherer,
in an appraisal framework and discusses the usefulness of naming emotions 2003), organisms appraise events according to a more or less
that do not come with ready-made labels in many languages. common list of dimensions. One important dimension is pleas-
antness, which also is very relevant to dimensional theories
Keywords (Russell, 2003). Yet, pleasantness can be considered an intrin-
emotion, goal, jealousy, motivation sic property of an event (Scherer, 1987) or it can be conflated
with goal conduciveness—the question of whether this event
is congruent with my current goals. Early theoretical thinking
Smith and van Dijk (XXXX) discuss the antecedents and conse- focused on the pleasantness and goal conduciveness for the
quences of two emotions, schadenfreude and the more recently emoter, not for another person. In the case of schadenfreude
coined gluckschmerz. Both terms are presented as compound and gluckschmerz, the event is presumed to be (un)pleasant for
nouns from the German that combine a term for a negative event someone else. It becomes pleasant or unpleasant to the emoter
(schaden = damage) with a positive emotion (freude = joy) or only through its goal conduciveness for them, which in turn is
a positive event (glück = good luck) with a negative affect closely linked to perceptions of fairness. Thus, in some ways,
(schmerz = pain). In German, the latter would actually combine one could subsume schadenfreude under the heading of a goal-
into “Glücksschmerz.” The article outlines the psychological conducive event that is considered fair and, hence, an instance
antecedents and consequences of positive emotional reactions of happiness. Gluckschmerz could be a goal-obstructive event
to negative elicitors and vice versa negative emotional reactions that is considered unfair and, hence, a likely instance of anger.
to positive elicitors. Notably, the events are positive and nega- Yet, the authors (Smith & van Dijk, XXXX) clearly do not
tive for others. That is, both emotions are defined through their think so.
shared object—the fortune of others—and their positivity and When considering the process in detail, it becomes obvious
negativity is not intrinsic (like the positivity of chocolates) but that both emotions are not actually elicited by the appraisal of
rather defined through their goal conduciveness for the emoter. an event. Rather, they are elicited by an appraisal of the pre-
By definition, then, the emotions of the observer do not match sumed appraisal of the event by the protagonist. Or in other
the emotions of the observed person, and the authors discuss the words, by an appraisal of the social appraisal (Fischer &
process underlying this mismatch and the wider consequences Manstead, 2008; Hareli & Hess, 2010) of an event as seen by
that follow. the person who experiences it. That is, observers first have to
The authors (Smith & van Dijk, XXXX) emphasize balance appraise an event from the perspective of a person who, for
theory and an “appraisal of deservingness” and then link both example, slips on a banana peel, and then they appraise the out-
emotions to appraisal theory and evolutionary theory. The come with regard to their own goals. When the person who slips
authors specifically emphasize the appraisal of “deserving- is an old lady, the emotion would likely be pity or empathic
ness.” The antecedents of both schadenfreude and gluck- distress, but when it is an arrogant twit or a member of a disliked
schmerz are events that are seen as (un)deserved. This is not group, the emotion would be schadenfreude. This, then, links
really much different than the more commonly referred to both emotions strongly with empathy. In some ways, one could
appraisal of justice or fairness. The authors distinguish this say that schadenfreude and glucksckmerz are empathy gone

Corresponding author: Ursula Hess, Department of Psychology, Humboldt-University of Berlin, Rudower Chaussee 18, Berlin, 12489, Germany. Email: ursula.hess@hu-berlin.de
2  Emotion Review Vol. 10 No. 4

wrong. We understand the other and their plight or fortune, but emoters are willing to acknowledge envy, yet the word exists in
we consider them undeserving of our pity or vicarious happi- many languages. On the other hand, with regard to emotion
ness and the converse emotion results. Interestingly, this sug- theory, the aim is to describe underlying processes, not surface
gests that we need a minimum of perspective taking, of the events. From that perspective, happiness and anger as labels
ability to understand others, to feel these emotions. may suffice. Yet, on the third hand, it is time to expand beyond
Yet, are schadenfreude and gluckschmerz distinct emotions “basic emotions” and to study in more detail, and maybe also
different from happiness and anger? And if so, what would that label, the many hitherto nameless members of the emotion fam-
mean? Appraisal theory (Scherer, 1987) can describe many ilies, and gluckschmerz is a good start.
thousands of emotions but these are, in the end, quantitative dif-
ferences that regroup into a much smaller number of qualita-
tively different families of states. Not all of them are labeled ORCID iD
and, in fact, schadenfreude as a separate emotion label is found Ursula Hess https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6793-7282
only in a few languages and the label gluckschmerz had to be
created from scratch. Yet, as the authors (Smith & van Dijk,
XXXX) outline, when thinking about intergroup behaviors, References
these labels come in very useful. When talking about the world, Ellsworth, P. C., & Scherer, K. R. (2003). Appraisal processes in emotion.
labels are required, and this applies also to our emotional world. In R. J. Davidson, H. Goldsmith & K. R. Scherer (Eds.), Handbook of
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anger? Should social concerns decide which emotion we label? Press.
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