I bet that car manufacturers are silently gloating at the recent travails of Toyota. I also bet there are many, many people in New Orleans openly rejoicing that Peyton Manning blew it so badly on his last play of the game. What makes us so prone to rejoicing in the suffering of others? Sounds so inhumane.
Schadenfreude is a borrowed German word referring to one person’s pleasure in
another’s suffering or misfortune. Researchers have shown that two
things lead people to report higher levels of enjoyment at another’s
hardship — if they possess low self-esteem and if they were previously
envious of the other person.
As consumers we are conditioned to low self-esteem and enviousness. It's how it functions. Without those two dynamics, the market would collapse, retailers would suffer, and advertisers would run out of material. The propensity for Schadenfruede is deeply and pervasively engrained in our culture.
Heaven forbid we gain some healthy self-esteem and banish envious thoughts! We might just get out of this financial and political mess we're in. We might just develop a much more vibrant, and hopeful Weltanschauung.