Okay, here’s a quiz:
1. Your friend has lost a great deal of weight and looks absolutely fabulous….
2. Another friend has just landed a great job that you’d have loved to at least been offered….
3. An acquaintance is in the newspapers at a celebrity party happily laughing with Amal and George….
1.Delighted for them. They’ve worked hard. They deserve it!
2. Figure…well, at least you can brag about knowing them.
3. A little something inside of you dies.
The Germans have a word for it - Gluckschmerz - the sadness one feels at another’s good fortune. (It’s amazing how the Germans have a word for every venal emotion.)
The way I see it, Gluckschmerz is not quite as strong as envy (or because it is in a foreign language it doesn’t sound as bad.) However I’m well aware it is waltzing fairly close to becoming another of the deadly sins. And if I’m not careful it could mutate into its very ugly cousin, Schadenfreude– the pleasure derived from another person's misfortune. (Boy those Germans have nailed it again)
The road is filled with opportunities to experience Gluckschmerz:
The woman in the gym who must have had her ass tightened. Nature could not have made it look that good…could it? Really? The Bluto who monopolizes the workout bench and lifts a gazillion kilos. I bet not everything about him is big…we all know about Steroids.
There was a time when my friends and I used to pore over Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. Today who needs them when there’s the ultimate nemesis, Facebook.
I was speaking to my sister on Skype last week and the conversation went something like this:
“I see K is in Cannes,” she said pointedly. “Again!”
“Oh, sure, like he’s doing business there.” My voice was somewhat astringent…okay… bitchy.
“And did you see A on NBC? That must have been at least a four minute interview.”
“Yeah but did you see the size of her? She looked like a giant piggy bank.”
I can understand the evolutionary reason for Gluckschmerz. It kind of pushes you on to achieve. You say to yourself: “How can I lie around eating bonbons and watching Netflix when all the world is accomplishing something?”
But I’m far from believing it’s a fuzzy friendly emotion. The truth is, it’s something to be ashamed of, unlike the other deadly sins.
Accuse me of gluttony and I will probably laugh as the hamburger juice runs down my face. Lust, sure. After all we’re only human. Sloth. Woohoo! I plead guilty. Wrath, yep. Avarice, occasionally. Pride, for sure. That one comes up every Yom Kipper.
But the thing about getting older is I find I have far fewer sins to confess. I go to a Day of Atonement service when we symbolically beat our chests in recognition of our transgressions, and we read off reams and reams of sins. Many I never even thought of. Here’s one of my favorites – the sin of despair. (That one is kind of cool really.) But mostly there are sins I just don’t do anymore. It gets kind of sad smugly looking around for how I’ve been naughty during the year and coming up empty-handed.
I imagine practicing Catholics feel the same: “Wait a second! Is that Priest dozing off during my Confession? He used to be riveted. He used to call in all his Priest pals just to hear my latest escapades.”
Another possibility is I have become too forgiving of myself. I just copped to the Seven Cardinal Sins without a pang of guilt. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe we should bring back a little fire and brimstone. A little Corinthians 5:13 – put the sinners out of the church!
The problem is sin is such good fun. And Gluckschmerz (the baby sister of envy) can bind you to the other person. Your sour, bitching, salacious, gossipy and snarky comments make you co-conspirators. I think I can even say it builds community.
I know some people who swear they don’t feel Gluckschmerz. But I’m pretty sure they do on the sly. I can’t believe that deep down in their hearts there isn’t a tiny Gluckschmerzy tapeworm eating at them.
Still in the end, of all my unprincipled instincts I can’t completely laugh Gluckschmerz off. There’s something so puny and peevish about it. There’s something just so small.
I’ve tried to rid myself of it. I’ve attempted thinking of rainbows and unicorns whenever a bad thought creeps into my mind. But that never works for more than a second.
So in the end I’ve given up trying to banish Gluckschmerz from my life. Because I really do believe it is a sin. And it’s sad to say, nowadays, a good sin is hard to find.
TURNING POINTS from Crowd-Writing
a book by Shelley Katz