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The Schadenfreude of Cosiness

Very cold bride and groom in Central Park

Here’s your thought for your week: We can only ever feel cosy when we are actively avoiding or besting adversity. Schadenfreude (schaden = pleasure, freude = pain) means taking pleasure from another’s misfortune; I would argue that this is too broad and nasty, and not nearly focussed enough on the cosy aspect. Another being does not need to suffer for us to feel this happiness. Instead, it is that we can only appreciate how good things are when we have the contrast in front of us. We take pleasure from being safe, out of danger. We can even imagine ourselves into a cosy mind-set, simply thinking of being inside out of a downpour.

Let me explain.

We can only feel nice and warm, wrapped up in front of the fire with a book and cup of chocolate, when it is cold and miserable outside. If it is raining or snowing, even better – the cosy level has just jumped.

Likewise: if we are in the rain, we are not cosy. If we are in the rain under a big umbrella, completely dry and safe whilst torrents pour by, we are cosy. Which then leads on to why we can feel such delight in watching the suffering of others, and often enjoy our circumstances more when others can’t have them. Take traffic, for example: if we are driving at a normal speed on an open road with normal traffic, we are content. Not happy, not unhappy. All normal.

Now, change nothing about the road we are driving on, except: the oncoming traffic is at a standstill, the traffic jam wiggling up to the horizon, which is exactly where we are going. Now how do we feel? Delighted, grateful and victorious. Simply because hundreds of fellow drivers are suffering on the other side of the central median. We are not happy that they are in traffic, but we are happy that we’re not.

Now imagine the cosy feeling of winter, but it’s also Christmas: a roaring fire, cup of tea, blankets, nibbles, book, family all together. It’s snowing outside; cosiness attained. And then turn on the TV and see that people are struggling to reach their own families, flights are cancelled, thousands are sleeping in airports waiting for their delayed flights to become undelayed. How do we feel? Cosier, happier. We are not them. We feel sad for them. We feel happy for us. And it’s still snowing.

Cold kitties make the kitchen seem warmer...

Or another example: we needed to hail a taxi in Bangkok during a major thunderstorm. We were just outside the lobby, but still in the grand covered entry. Rain was sheeting down, the wind was blowing the deluge horizontally so that what should be dry was not, the air itself was soaking wet. We were heading to India, and did not want to start the journey drenched. Vien set his shoulders into the rain and left me with the luggage. I was in the only dry area of the entry. I was not in the rain. I could see Vien and the guard at the gate being smacked by the rain as they hunted a cab.* I was cosy.

Vien came back with a taxi, who needed to think about whether or not he wanted to take us to the airport. While we were waiting for him to change his mind (which, happily, he did), I was no longer cosy. I was happy Vien was back out of the rain, but I was not cosy. The guard was back in his hut and everyone was at least no longer getting wet. Isn’t it strange?

Then, once we were both in the taxi splashing our way to Don Mueung Airport, we were both cosy watching the lightning whip by and the wipers swivel along. No one was suffering, and we were all happier due to adverse circumstances.

As being safely out of danger in German is the tongue twister außer Gefahr, I’ll call it schadensafe-and-sound until you suggest something better…

* As a side note, Vien was using our new Japanese umbrella, and it held up very well. The salesman in Tokyo Hands Department Store would be pleased, as during our purchase my sister had asked in Japanese for an umbrella fit for a ‘tyfu’ (sp??). He had replied in Japanese, but we had understood him perfectly: “Madam, I do not recommend using an umbrella to protect you in a typhoon! Perhaps you should consider a rain coat…or not going outdoors.” Well, we may not have a hurricane-proof umbrella, but it can certainly weather the monsoon!

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