Schadenfreude and the pursuit of common unhappiness
Many people have wondered about the origins of the name "Freud". Well, I am here to tell you that it was shortened from the original Schadenfreude. In double German this literally means "bitter and twisted" and nowadays the term is used to mean: "the joy one experiences when one sees someone slipping on a banana skin". In middle Yiddish we say: Lakhn zol er mit yashtherkes (he who laughs with the lizards)
In the early days, the Schadenfreudes were a large, extended but deeply envious clan. The moment anyone in the community experienced some naches*, the Schadenfreudes would start malicious gossip at the mikva**. So much so, that the unfortunate lucky ones would start denigrating themselves, avoiding eye contact and walking hunched over so as to earn a place in the community again.
With time and some sharp business practice the family became prosperous and started having borscht every night for dinner. Being of good standing in the community, they no longer had any need to suck the life out of anyone who was better off than them. They decided there and then to shorten the name to ‘Freud’. As any German speaking person would know – this simple word means ‘joy’. Or ‘oy’ with a ‘j’ in front of it. They took to skipping in the streets and saying a little prayer on the Sabbath for the poor unfortunates in the village.
But blood will out, as they say and Ziggy carried on the Schadenfreude tradition from the day he was born. His envy of my good looks and wonderful nature leaked all over the crib. During parallel play, I would offer him my toys and he would shove his (even then) substantial schnoz*** in my face and shout:
"I want money, I want money!"
"Money isn’t everything." I would say.
"Oh yeah! Well it’s way ahead of what ever is in second place, let me tell you."
His drive to be the only one was singular. And I was so gullible and adorable that I trusted him when he said that I would be released from under the floor-boards by people who would then send me to a holiday camp. ìUnd by trainî, he said. He never shared his toys and it came to pass that he would not share psychoanalysis with anyone outside of his inner circle. Mel Klein was lucky enough to get Batmitzvah’d because she swore to keep the death instinct in her theory of envy.
And so, it is not surprising that ‘happiness’ was never to be psychoanalytic. Even Aloshka Einstein said: "Well-being and happiness never appeared to me as an absolute aim. I am even inclined to compare such moral aims to the ambitions of a pig" (Albert Einstein 1879-1955). Darwin finally put paid to it by insisting that all we really want is to be stepping on the head of everyone else in the fight for survival. By the way, bubbelehs, if I can lose a little more weight, I am hoping to buy a pair of Selfish jeans from Dawkins’ mart at the January sales. I have been following the time tested advice of the village matchmaker: ess vie ein foygl sheise vie ein ferd! (eat like a bird, excrete like a horse)
If you put a sea shell to your ear, you might still even hear the echo of Ziggy’s sniggers left over from the fall of communism which finally ended the illusion that we are willing to share what we have. And on his gravestone you will find a small but clearly etched footnote:
“Happiness is an imaginary condition that we attribute to other people, especially the dead”.
** ritual baths,
***nose with extended nostrils