The Misfortune at the Base of Good Fortune

Whoever is meditating the begetting of children should also acquaint him- or herself with the thought that the happiness and wellbeing of these children will surely have, in no insignificant degree, its source and sustenance in the mental comparison of their own condition, however bad, with the conditions of people even worse off than themselves. This means: whoever wishes his or her own children to lead a happy life must, even if unintentionally, also wish that there be people worse off than these children; he or she lays claim, nolens volens, to the suffering of others as a resource for the happiness of those closer to him or her: the misfortune at the base of all good fortune.

The English language, oddly, appears to have generated no term of its own for this general truth that the misfortune of another person can often be a key source of our own happiness and has had to borrow the German term Schadenfreude to point up this phenomenon’s importance in our psychical economy. Now there appears to be scientific confirmation that our happiness depends in large part upon the sufferings of others: “Generally speaking, people feel better when they compare themselves to people who are not doing as well as themselves.” (Isabelle Bauer, siehe, accessed on 19.5.2015). The same study seeks to provide evidence for the pre-scientific observation that we feel worse wherever we compare ourselves with people we see to be better off than ourselves. Prospective parents must take into account the fact that this misfortune of others which forms the base of one’s own sense of good fortune will surely play a more decisive role in any happiness their children will enjoy than will any >Shared Joy.

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