Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Warm Gun

I’ve been using some of my favorite German words lately. Scheisse, gestalt, gluckschmerz. As the video above alluded, today’s word is schadenfreude.

I’ve been thinking a bit about happiness lately.

I watched Happy Go Lucky last weekend, which I think was an overlooked film from this last year. Certainly I don’t think that just because it got a Best Actress nomination it’s automatically a worthwhile movie. But turns out that it is.

I don’t think that I’ll ever watch it again. Furthermore, I didn’t even like watching it during a fair amount of the movie. And the pacing was very tedious. And I didn’t get a lot of the jokes. But it was worth seeing because it makes some very interesting points about happiness, which is a pretty worthwhile subject to dissect. The main character is irritatingly happy. All the time. Nearly everyone else in the movie isn’t. If this were a typical Hollywood flick Poppy would fix everyone else with her boundless giggling chipperdom. But she doesn’t. People around her choose to be unhappy, and mostly they stay that way by the end of the film. Being happy, acting happy, optimism, frivolity, love, sex; it was interesting how the movie separates lots of things that we associate together and shows how they don’t necessarily have to be linked. Whether characters had a lot, a little, nothing at all, it was really about being content. Happiness is an attitude, not a situation, or as Poppy shows, a behavior. It was certainly a worthwhile watch.

Another thing I watched last week was a short film called Validation.

It’s rather heavy-handed, but well done. The character (I forget his name, but he’s on Bones) shows that happiness can be manufactured. He decides to be happy, and to make others happy. But again, the narrative shows you can’t force happiness on others, just suggest it.

Back to schadenfreude, or more accurately, back to gluckschmerz. To the best of my understanding, since I don’t sprechen sie Deutsches, gluckschmerz is the opposite of schadenfreude. That’s not really accurate since schadenfreude is taking pleasure at other people’s pain, the exact opposite would be taking pleasure at other people’s happiness. Which is a good thing certainly. Gluckschmerz is being unhappy due to someone’s happiness. I posted it as a blog entry in a cathartic/ironic/experimental way. I was indeed feeling unhappy due to an abundance of happiness in my vicinity. Gluckschmerz, I think most would agree, is bad. It is unproductive. But is schadenfreude bad?

Causing someone pain in order to feel pleasure is sadism, and I’d say it’s bad. Even if there are masochists involved, causing people pain is just a bad habit to have. Schadenfreude on the other hand is just pulling happiness out of the air, where it didn’t previously exist. You’re not hurting anyone, you’re just becoming happier due to unavoidable circumstances. Which sounds pretty productive. It’s like recycling; turning something bad into something good.

I’ve noticed that the exact same stimulus can have opposite effects on me. I can see something happy and become either happier or sadder. I can see something sad and become either sadder or happier. It makes sense that I choose to be happy whenever possible. So should I let schadenfreude run uninhibited? It doesn’t seem nice, but does seem efficient. Your unhappiness makes me happy now; my unhappiness makes you happy later. End result: increased happiness. Certainly, it would be better to actively make someone happy (charity, service, comradery and all that) but when there’s nothing to actively do to prevent the misery, she we then revel because of it? Again, it doesn’t seem nice, but I can’t really see a reason not to.

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