Find Fulfillment in Freudenfreude

This Week’s Thought

Great leaders find fulfillment in seeing others succeed.


My wife, Jamie, and I were recently at a friend’s house for a cookout. At one point, the conversation turned to television shows, and guests began discussing what they were watching. As the conversation unfolded, I found myself both engaged – sharing my favorites – and removed – watching my tablemates interact.

People talked passionately about their favorite mystery or sitcom, its plot, and the cast of characters. Not only were my tablemates enthusiastic about particular shows, but they advocated for others to watch what they were watching. They wanted people to experience the joy they had experienced from seeing a favorite program.

I bet you’ve had a similar experience.

You rave about a show. Arrange for someone else to see it with you. Then, while they’re watching the show, you find yourself watching them. You want them to laugh when you laugh or react to scenes that touch you. Watching someone else’s joy can bring us fulfillment.

Years ago, I learned the term Schadenfreude. It involves finding pleasure or joy in watching someone else struggle and fail. We experience Schadenfreude when someone else’s failure or humiliation satisfies us.

Schadenfreude is a dark part of the human condition. Sadly, it isn’t reserved for sitcoms where mean high school students laugh at the kid who spills his lunch tray. Schadenfreude is found among adults in the workplace too. It’s toxic, and it’s an indicator of an unhealthy culture.

I recently read a bit more about Schadenfreude. In the process, I encountered another term, Freudenfreude. I must have forgotten all about this word if I had previously learned it.

Freudenfreude is the opposite of Schadenfreude. It means that you find pleasure in watching someone else succeed.

Arguably, the dinner party discussion about favorite tv shows and movies was a glimpse at Freudenfreude in action. People were genuinely excited at the idea of seeing others enjoying what they enjoy.

This Freudenfreude concept is something I think we can all get behind.

As a leader, there are opportunities to create Freudenfreude moments at work. You don’t have to spend the day watching TV shows; you can simply:

  • teach someone a skill and then watch them employ it
  • challenge a team member to step up and watch them soar
  • give somebody a chance to lead and experience the thrill of their success

This week’s tool and video encourage you to think about times when you found fulfillment in Freudenfreude and to identify how to make a similar moment happen in the present. I invite you to list a past situation where you taught, challenged, or provided an opportunity to someone. Then, reflect on how they responded, what they accomplished, and how it made you feel. But, don’t stop there. The tool also encourages you to identify a present opportunity for you to do a similar thing.

This week’s podcast aligns with finding fulfillment in Freudenfreude. I’m joined in the Leadership Lab by Shelmina Abji. Shelmina is a former vice president at IBM and the author of Show Your Worth: 8 Intentional Strategies for Women to Emerge as Leaders at Work. Her book and our conversation challenge us to find role models, speak up, and seize opportunities. Shelmina’s ideas are the stuff that will generate Freudenfreude moments in your life.


This Week’s Questions

  1. When did you last teach someone a skill, challenge a person to get better, or provide a team member a chance to succeed and they exceeded your expectations?
  2. How did you feel when you saw their success?
  3. What can you do in your current situation to create a similar feeling for yourself and a team member?

This Week’s Challenge

Explain the term Freudenfreude to a friend or colleague and ask them to share a Freudenfeude moment they’ve experienced.

Episode 158: Show Your Worth with Author Shelmina Abji

Freudenfreude Worksheet