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Perhaps the greatest word in any language, Schadenfreude has become the defining emotion of the 20th Century. From the German, Schaden (damage), and Freude (joy), it means the enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others. It is the easiest, and often the most fulfilling, enjoyment available.
From the laughs generated by the clown slipping on the banana peel to the guilty viewing of television shows such as Cops1 shameful pleasure has been refined over the decades. Americans have led in the race for more advanced forms of Schadenfreude, as evidenced by the proliferation of 'caught on tape' TV programmes and the otherwise inexplicable amount of attention focused on the President Clinton's2 indiscretions.
Recently, a study has shown that a certain amount of Schadenfreude can be helpful in relieving stress. This comes as no surprise to many. Everyone, at one time or another, most likely several times a day, has laughed at another's misfortune and felt that much better about themselves. It's healthy.