On Schadenfreude: should we be happy when bad things happen to bad people?

Let’s suppose that a hypothetical person, call them Frump, had done many, many bad things, and somehow seemed to just get away with it. Then finally, justice comes calling in the shape of, ohh let’s just suppose, an FBI raid on their home at Māra-lago. That might make you feel warm and happy inside. But is that a wholesome emotion?

We have this idea of muditā, which is, oddly enough, not really defined in the early texts, but which according to the consensus of the traditions, means to rejoice in the successes of others. It’s the direct opposition to jealousy and cynicism.

Now, at a worldly level we can have a celebratory sense of muditā if we see, for example, an amazing athlete complete an incredible feat.

But does this apply to all kinds of success? What if we see, say, the son of a rich businessman who, despite losing bunches of money, and hurting bunches of people, still manages to get elected to high office? Do we celebrate his success? Is that also muditā?

It would seem not. There’s a moral dimension to it: we celebrate the hard work, the commitment, the overcoming of obstacles.

So we celebrate the success that comes from doing what is good. But can we flip the script? Is it so bad to celebrate the failures that come from doing bad?

There are perfectly rational reasons to consider such comeuppances as a good thing. If the person is allowed to continued unabated, they will hurt even more people. And they will also hurt themselves. They are creating bad karma, which will afflict them for a long time to come. And it is often the case that when someone has become habituated to doing evil, they will never find a path out of evil by themselves. Someone has to stop them, and only then do they have a chance.

Fine. But emotions, and particularly moral emotions, are not rational. Might we just be fooling ourselves when we say that we are happy that justice is being served? Are we not secretly happy to see the bad person suffer? After all, when celebrating success, it is not just the rational appreciation of success that matters, but the connection with the joy that the other person experiences.

Our moral life has, irreducibly, an emotional dimension. If we experience jealousy, it’s a harmful emotion and a bad feeling. We can try to reason our way out of it: tell ourselves that jealousy is not helping anyone, that we are only harming ourselves. And this is true, and is part of our moral development. But it’s not enough. We have to learn to appreciate others, to feel muditā. If we don’t, our attempts to reason ourselves out of jealousy will remain brittle, as they only address a part of who we are.

Is it not, then, the case that the reverse is also true? That it’s not enough to simply rationally understand that justice is served? We have to actually rejoice in the downfall of the evil, or else we are not fully experiencing the meaning of evil’s cost. From this perspective, then, the absence of schadenfreude is not, as one might imagine, a sign of evolved consciousness of good, but rather of a shallow consciousness of evil. Perhaps, even, it is a premature optimization, AKA spiritual bypassing: we think that we are being compassionate for the evil-doer, but we are, in fact, subconsciously identifying with them. The real reason we don’t want to feel schadenfreude is that we see ourselves in their shoes. We too have evil inside ourselves that we do not recognize, yet we fear others will find out.


I suspect that, practically speaking, a modest bit of schadenfreude now and then is natural, and may be not such a bad thing in the scheme of things. But you wouldn’t want to get stuck there. Probably best to acknowledge it and move on.


:joy: I thought you were referring to Alex Jones at first.

idk An FBI raid is one thing. A criminal conviction is quite another. As an American, I don’t expect to feel joy seeing a former president convicted for his crimes against my country. Relief, yes. Renewed confidence and faith in the rule of law and in democracy: perhaps. But joy? No.


Interesting analysis of emotions, Bhante.

I am not sure if it is possible to generalize which is more mature, having Schadenfreude or not having Schadenfreude. (BTW, I didn’t know Schadenfreude is an English word. Are there really no words in English to express this phenomenon, so that you have to resort to German?)

I also think there is a subtle distinction between Schadenfreude and “rejoicing in the downfall of evil”, as you call it. At least in its usage in German, Schadenfreude does have the connotation of enjoying to see the other person suffer. This is not exactly the same as rejoicing in the downfall of evil.

And after all, experiencing a certain emotion or not experiencing it is just a fact, not something to be easily changed by an act of will. And—surprise—it is conditioned! We all have been conditioned to feel Schadenfreude from ealy on, at least those of us who grew up with the fairy tales of the Grimm Brothers. So many times we heard about the little goads rejoicing with their mother when the wolf is finally dead …

In order to change our emotional response in certain situations, if we find it is unskillful, we have to understand our emotions and their causes and to change the causes …


Can anyone with divine eyes verify whether in certain lifetime, Mr. Frump was Ven. @sujato 's sister, wife, mother, daughter? :interrobang:

I take no joy in seeing anyone suffer, even if they may “deserve” it. Honestly I wonder what happened in their life to leave them that scarred, scared, and generally screwed up.

This post made me google to see what happened. I had not heard about it. The raid is a good start, almost 2 years late. Until there are charges filed, and perhaps a conviction… I still expect nothing to happen…


My opinion about mudita has changed somewhat. For example i saw mudita as rejoicing in the happiness or succes of others. Then it started not to feel good anymore. Because why should i rejoice the demanding lifestyle, the happiness and the succes of others that is based on lobha, dosa and moha? That rejoicing is cynical. And what happiness, succes and lifestyle is not based on lobha, dosa and moha?

Ofcourse people are happy when anything goes like wished for. Must i rejoice in that happiness and succes? Knowing that those same people can become demons when things do not go like they long?
What is the use of rejoicing in that greed-based kind of happiness and succes? I started to feel, it is quit childish and naive and foolish to rejoice in what is unwholesome rooted.

The same with comfort and welfare. Well nice that people live like that, but what is the price, and is their really any reason to rejoice in it?

I see people rejoicing in the warm weather in the Netherlands. Happy people. People are so self-centered that they do not even see this increasing heat as a problem. Must i rejoice in their happiness?
I do not.

I feel, when people become more sensitive that is really something to rejoice in. Or if one really is learning from bad choices.

I also think that crises is not always bad or hitting rock bottom. Sometimes that is the only way to become more sensitive.

Suffering is not bad or evil. Like Buddha said suffering can lead to faith. Suffering can bring many good things.

I do not think that we are yet wise when we believe there are bad persons and rejoice in their downfall.
No, Schadenfreude is moha, cruelty, not compassionate, and wise. Oke human but not wise.

All beings are fundamentally pure in heart but overcome by adventitious defilements.

There are no bad people in this world. Just people who have done some bad actions.


Why do you think that the hypothetical person Frump having their Māra-lago home raided by the FBi is a occasion for schadenfreude? They are back on the front pages of the papers, with lots of people talking about them. They’ve even made it to a forum on Early Buddhists Texts! Wow, they’ve done really well. In short they are just where they want to be. Surely we should be rejoicing that they have achieved their goals once again! :wink:


I’m afraid not. English has “glee”, “gleefulness” and “gloating”, but none of them quite cuts it.

The first two are too broad in meaning and would work only when qualified by an adjective; e.g., “malicious glee”. As for the third, this is either an adjective (= schadenfroh) or a noun of action, not a noun of state. We don’t have any such word as “gloatfulness”.


It’s always at the top of the “We don’ have a word for this in English” lists. So in that way it has become famous.

I think there is a difference, although slight, between joy in the misfortune of others and satisfaction in seeing the results of unwholesome karma. The second could possibly be seen as wholesome, but only in an impossibly detached, abhidhammaish way. I don’t think in practice it could be for anyone short of an arahant.

We can kind of see this in the various SN19 suttas, e.g. SN 19.1: Aṭṭhisutta.

But I also think it is inappropriate to believe that when we see something bad happening to someone that we can know that the bad result we are seeing is coming from the bad action that we saw. It can lead to lots of self deception. We may be seeing the results of karma, but I think it’s dangerous to assume so.

I believe that equanimity is a much more appropriate response. Everyone is the owner of their karma. I also think that we get better advice from AN 5.162: Dutiyaāghātapaṭivinayasutta when it comes to bad people. At the same time, spiritual bypass is a thing, so don’t do that.


Interesting topic!

There’s been a study on exactly that

…early evolutionary origin of inequity aversion and indicate that schadenfreude may have evolved as a response to unfair allocation of resources.

I guess using Bhante’s hypothetical He-who-shall-not-be-named -because-he-likes -the-attention example (:laughing:), ‘unfair allocation of resources’ would mean more about addressing injustice ( or people getting away with criminal behavior).

Say some ruthless politicians who instigate genocides, murder etc are hauled to the ICC, I see no problem in me breathing a sigh of relief that they were brought to justice. Is that the same as being happy…I don’t know tbh. It depends on what one considers ‘being happy’ to be I guess…but if I see their situation has reduced the suffering of many people, in that case I am happy!


i personally don’t fully understand the hate for “frump” (why not just say his name?)
i can certainly discern blameworthy actions he has taken, but i notice this across the board with people in power. i can also discern praiseworthy things he has done.
i think some of this theoretical schadenfreude may be on account of a difference in political ideology.

I think a humorous approach should work. Furthermore the Buddha said that we should criticize people who deserve criticize. So a humorous approach can also act (this stupid venerable knows no bound, now he has to face the consequences, hahahaha) as a deterrent for ourselves against becoming those fools and acting foolishly.


Thank you, Bhante. I truly love your perspective on this.

The situation reminds me of something that comes up periodically in vegan/animal rights groups. A poacher, or a big game hunter with lots of pictures of himself standing over dead animals, is killed by a wild animal. Some posters on the forum celebrate his death. Immediately, some others try to silence them saying we should never celebrate anyone’s death.

Now, I don’t like to dogpile on the posts that say the hunter got what he deserved. I - personally - don’t like to build up internal emotional momentum about celebrating someone’s death. But at the same time, it’s not a response I’m going to judge in others or myself. If someone is happy a poacher got killed by a lion, yeah, I get that. If the thought that a poacher was killed or that Frump’s home was raided by the FBI gives me a little smile, I’m not going to worry about it. Even if it is ultimately a hindrance (and I don’t know if it is or isn’t), but even if I have far bigger hindrances to worry about at this point on my journey along the path.


Regarding OP,

I think deriving pleasure from other people’s unfortunate consequences is a sign of superiority, which is conceit. However deriving pleasure from other people’s fortunate consequences is considered wholesome in the suttas. I don’t agree with the notion that we should take pleasure in other people’s unfortunate consequences because we should take pleasure in people’s fortunate consequences, simply because they are opposites. In a way that’s saying it’s ok to be unwholesome because it’s ok to be wholesome. There are qualities on the dark side and there are qualities on the light side, regardless of there being a “being” or “ego” behind these actions.

This is not to say that you can’t learn from other people’s negative consequences. If someone gets lung cancer from smoking, or loses their home to gambling, that’s a good lesson to learn: that one’s addicting pleasures can destroy one’s life.

So then what are the consequences of taking pleasure in unfortunate consequences of others? I would say it would get one addicted to drama, and stuck in world affairs, justice and revenge porn, and that keeps you further trapped in samsara. You can spend an entire day looking at videos of Brazilian robbers getting killed, they call this “justice porn” and it’s addicting. It also gives you an unrealistic perception of the world: that the hero always saves the day, and that there is universal justice, which is a dangerous false sense of security. There are many incidents where the hero gets killed and the robber gets away.

Shakespeare was more realistic: both the bad and the good people die in the end.


I understand you are making a slippery slope argument, but it seems an impossibly steep and slippery slope that connects the OP to Brazilian “justice porn.” The OP was nuanced and exploratory.

is not going to lead to binge-watching justice porn.

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I was just covering the spectrum of severity, starting from disney-esque childhood conditioning where the hero “lives happily ever after” to being glued to the news or justice porn content and rooting for the good guy and taking pleasure in the bad guy losing. The point being is it’s just a form of fantasizing not grounded in reality that serves for feel-good escapism, and that Shakespeare was more grounded in reality, that everyone involved in the drama loses in the end.

The battle between good and evil never ends, and in the end one must go beyond good and evil and move on as Bhante seems to imply in your quote.

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Talking about mudita. I think the rule of thumb is only rejoice in skillful things, whether it’s internal or external. There’s nothing to rejoice in the “success” of an immoral person.

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There is no “immoral person”, only skillful/unskillful actions. There’s only the 3 poisons which manifest differently for different people in varying degrees, resulting in different outcomes. This is why Schadenfreude is pointless, there is no one to root/cheer for, just natural consequences/outcomes of actions, do you root for a leaf dropping to the ground in one direction over the other?

If the Buddha was concerned with morality as an end in itself he could have prioritized an average householder over Angulimala the serial killer to teach and let Angulimala suffer in hell as punishment (taking pleasure in unfortunate outcomes aka schadenfreude), but he picked Angulimala because he had little dust in his eyes. How the 3 poisons manifest is all the same whether one is a doctor or a killer, “good” or “bad”, except the doctor may be trapped in samsara and the killer may be capable of escaping it. The Buddha called Mara evil, someone who entices craving and incapable of wisdom, not Angulimala.


There is no “immoral person”

The Buddha said otherwise:

AN 3.2

“A fool is characterized by their deeds; an astute person is characterized by their deeds. And wisdom makes behavior beautiful. A fool is known by three things. What three? Bad conduct by way of body, speech, and mind.

These are the three things by which a fool is known.

An astute person is known by three things. What three? Good conduct by way of body, speech, and mind.

These are the three things by which an astute person is known.

So you should train like this: ‘We will reject the three things by which a fool is known, and we will undertake and follow the three things by which an astute person is known.’ That’s how you should train.”