Lately I’ve been experiencing an emotion I was introduced to early last year when I read about it in famed vulnerability researcher Brene Brown’s helpful book, Atlas of the Heart, which Julia and I both wrote about in separate posts. The emotion is called Freudenfreude, and it’s a mouthful, but really it’s just the feeling of finding joy from another person’s success.
In Atlas, Brown says Freudenfreude is the lesser-known counterpart of its opposite emotion, Schadenfreude—which comes from a combination of the German word for shame (Schaden) with the word for joy (Freude). From these German roots, you can probably guess if you didn’t already know that Schadenfreude describes the feeling of taking pleasure in someone else’s pain. If it were up to me, we would shunt Schadenfreude aside permanently in favor of Freudenfreude!
My recent Freudenfreude was brought on by my dear friend Zoe’s news that a flag design she created was selected for inclusion in a New York City public art installation, Rockefeller Center’s 2023 Flag Project. You may remember Zoe as the brilliant artist who was kind enough to generate original works for us this past year for our LOF Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year posts. And now her work has been flying high above the heart of NYC for the entire month of April. Cue my Freudenfreude!
For each of the past four years, Rockefeller Center has partnered with a different nonprofit organization to choose a theme and to select designs from hundreds of submissions around the world that would grace the 193 flagpoles surrounding The Rink at Rockefellar Center. This year’s partner is an organization dedicated to fighting hunger called City Harvest, so the theme for the flag designs is food. Zoe’s flag honors her nostalgia for eating the oversized warm, soft pretzels sold by cart vendors on the street corners of NYC that she could buy for 25 cents on her way home from school as a kid living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. NYC’s pretzel vendors are still thriving, although they now charge more than a quarter.
I first learned Zoe’s flag had been chosen for inclusion in this project from a text message she wrote in all caps back in March to notify our groupchat of housemates from college. We were all elated on behalf of Zoe’s achievement. Once the flag went up and Zoe had arranged her trip from her current home in California to go witness her official flag, several of our friends joined her there for an informal celebration.
Brene Brown reports in Atlas that researchers have identified two behaviors that increase Freudenfreude: One is shoy, which means “intentionally sharing the joy of someone relating a success story by showing interest and asking followup questions.” The second is “bragitude: intentionally tying words of gratitude toward the listener following discussion of personal successes.” Our friends have certainly engaged in both shoy and bragitude in rallying around Zoe’s flag at Rockefeller Center.
All who joy would win must share it. Happiness was born a twin.Lord Byron
Spring brings so many reasons to celebrate large and small achievements with our friends. Sporting events, graduations, birthdays—all are happening and just waiting for our acknowledgment to enjoy them. Cheers!
Nice column. Raymond the bagelman
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This makes me nostalgic for New York! I love that Zoe shared her artwork in this way and that her close friends could join her to view it in person.