Why do we Feel Good when we Make Fun of Others?

Via Ed & Deb Shapiro
on Oct 24, 2010
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Photo by Marc-Andre Lariviere

Nineteen year-old Tyler Clementi recently committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate and a friend secretly video taped him with a gay lover and put it out on the internet.

As they beat up an old man, two men and a woman videoed themselves enthusiastically laughing.

We may not always agree with others, but why do we need to cause them suffering? Why do we think it’s funny to put down, hurt, or even abuse another person?

Children giggle when another child falls down; when the opposing team wins we call them nasty names; when someone is bloodily beat up in a boxing match we shout hooray.

America’s Funniest Home Videos is full of images of people falling, crashing, making mistakes, and the resounding laughter that accompanies them. For instance, the ABC website highlights a bride’s veil that catches fire. Why do we find this so amusing?

In the political arena, constant put-downs are the norm. Rush Limbaugh has repeatedly said he wants President Obama to fail, as well as his administration and its agenda for economic and healthcare reform: “If Obama fails, America is saved.”

We attack others in order to feel good, or at least belittle someone as a way of making ourselves look better; finding fault or putting them down makes us feel superior. This tends to happen more when we are down ourselves, as misery loves company; feel bad yourself and you invariably find fault in others.

You would think as healthy human beings we would be concerned about another’s good fortune and happy to respect their preferences and choices. When we have a genuine regard for ourselves, we naturally extend that by wishing others success. Mudita is a Sanskrit term meaning “sympathetic joy,” or taking joy in other people’s happiness and well-being.

Now, in essence, mudita sounds easy and obvious—feeling joyful for another’s joy—but if someone else’s good fortune may be at the expense of our own (they got the job but we didn’t) can we still be happy for them? Or their success may highlight our own lack of good fortune, and challenge our self-worth and value. In other words, taking joy in someone you may have a negative feeling toward certainly does not happen overnight!

Mudita confronts us with those places that are wrapped up in our ego, such as jealousy, envy, judgment and greed. Jealousy isn’t going to get us anywhere other than into further pain and suffering, but how often do we wish that someone doesn’t succeed because their success highlights our own sense of failure?

We judge others in comparison to our own beliefs and preferences, but we can respect their choices, even if they are different to our own. Greed and self-centeredness take us out of the present and stop us from appreciating what we have right now.

Mudita asks that we let go of envy and comparison by seeing the other as ourselves, that there is no difference: we all experience the human condition, we breathe the same air, and we all want to be happy. Releasing judgment means stepping outside of our limited view and letting go of fixed and predictable patterns of thinking and behaving.

As mudita takes root, so we genuinely wish others be well. We actually want them to be happy! It makes us feel good. We want them to be free from suffering and to succeed at whatever they do. We recognize that our happiness and their happiness are no different and so we experience a deep joy in their well-being.


About Ed & Deb Shapiro

Ed & Deb Shapiro are the authors of new The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness & Meditation. Deb is the author of Your Body Speaks Your Mind, now in 19 languages. They have six meditation CDs. See more at their website.


7 Responses to “Why do we Feel Good when we Make Fun of Others?”

  1. elephantjournal says:

    via http://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal

    Dianne R: heartbreaking. My own child suffered such ridicule he quit high school and finally got his GED, then onto a Masters.

    Come to think of it he did all his college online, safer there?

  2. Our culture has built up the use of ridicule as a means of social control. This has led to an epidemic of bullying that is having terrible effects. While the afflictions contribute to the situation, I believe this is a case of robotic imitation of evil "leaders" who are set on destroying the culture. This is a karmic pattern, a collective karmic imprint, that must be purified. As with most destructive situations it is built on a dichotomy, a polarity or duality. In this case, bully is the dichotomy of victim. We need to change the narrative in society away from a victim narrative and that will help undermine the bully narrative.

  3. Sarah Doak says:

    People feel good when they make fun of others in part because as long as they are in the ego/idea of self they are being ruled by the cycling of affirmation and negation. It is affirming to put others down because it lifts oneself up. Also by grabbing affirmation it protects against negation.
    I tell my children that life is not a checkerboard. That is.. when another person’s square gets bigger theirs does not really get smaller.
    We might experience this in a Yoga class. Watching an especially attractive and/or accomplished practitioner doing their stuff need not make your square any smaller. Maybe Mudita would be when seeing another square get bigger our square grows too.. instead of shrinking. This would be a form of higher awareness.

    That all being said it is very important to realize there can be a huge difference between teasing and bullying and also criticism.
    Teasing can have a lot of social value. Tribal people use it to manage tensions in civil ways.
    So do children in school.
    To have a zero tolerance policy of teasing is often to end up making bullies out of teachers and administrators. Reactive demands to end all teasing is often quite misplaced.
    Another thing. To wish for a person’s success is a very tricky thing.
    Take for example Wilderness Safaris a highly recommended and awarded organization giving people a chance to learn ecology and experience “the Bushmen”. ‘A nature walk with these knowledgeable Bushmen… will not only enhance your safari, it might just change your approach to life!’
    So we should wish them success. Mudita. This is where the value of criticism comes in.


    To not criticize them and criticize them effectively is to turn a blind eye to incredible abuse.

    Same with criticism of all manner of exploiters abusers and appropriators. Criticism can be a tool of good works and consciousness expansion. Without it people may think that many exploiters and exploiting organizations are Ecological.. spiritual.. and helping the planet.. when instead they may be only looking this way acting this way and ignoring and covering their abuse and crimes with goodness.
    Blindly wishing well in these cases would not be right action. consider signing the petition.

  4. Charlotte says:

    Thank you for this. Mudita is one of my favorite practices. It creates brightness in the mind and deep happiness. Jealousy is a poisonous mind state, and uprooting it through mudita is a powerful practice.

    About 8 years ago, I wrote a story on mudita. If it's of interest to anyone to read more about it, here's the link: http://charlottebellyoga.com/mudita.html

  5. timful says:

    When we tear people down our ego wins a small victory, but in the long run it only brings disappointment, as we find ourselves living in a world full of disappointing people. When we look up at people, we at first feel a little smaller, but we get to live in a larger world.

  6. Matt J. says:

    These comments are true. We are endowed with a vicarious nature. If you wish to minimize your own exhibitions of this common behavior, you have two options: repression or acceptance. Repression involves an active denial of this vicarious nature, which inevitably leads to acts of judging others for their own nature. Acceptance, on the other hand, is a much more fruitful path. If you accept the fact people are helplessly vicarious, it will help you forgive those who vicariously trespass against you. You may look at this logic as pointless. After all, I'm not ridding the world of any vicariousness… but is it really possible to change our primal behavior? I believe the best path is to simply be how you would wish the world to be. Perhaps then the world will see you, be you, and you will see more of yourself in the world.

  7. […] be part of the solution, you are an even bigger pawn in the problem. In 2010, the tragic death of Tyler Clementi, an 18 year-old Rutgers University Freshman whose sexual tryst was broadcast across the Internet […]