I am a Detroit Lions fan.
If an airplane of NFL fans had only 32 seats, the Lions fan would sit in the back row, near the toilets and next to a Bengals fan with a screaming baby in his lap.
Sad isn’t a good word to describe Lions fans. Resigned is more like it. We have accepted our fate.
Any fleeting success the team might encounter is met with suspicion, if not downright indignation.
The Lions have perfected failure. When it comes to dishing out unusual and painful methods of losing, no franchise does it better.
The Detroit Lions have one playoff victory since 1957. Imagine walking by a roulette table and seeing that the ball landed on black sixty times in a row. You would think the table was rigged.
For this reason, we take great pleasure when fans of competing teams suffer. No fan base revels in the misery of others quite like Lions fans.
I see Cleveland lost again today and Odell Beckham had another tirade. Excellent. Serves them right for attempting to become a better football team.
Oh look, Jerry Jones is “very disappointed” again. He should be. Dallas Cowboys fans must be crushed. That feels nice.
The Chicago Bears are getting flattened by the Kansas City Chiefs. Now would be a great time to remind my friends in Chicago that their team passed on drafting Patrick Mahomes.
The New York Giants and Miami Dolphins can’t even tank their season properly. They just allowed the Lions to move right up the draft board.
The Germans call this schadenfreude, or pleasure derived by someone from another person's misfortune. The Japanese have their own saying for this all-too-human characteristic.
The misfortune of others is sweet like honey.
There is one problem with focusing on every other team’s pain. I still wake up as a fan of the Detroit Lions. I still support a hopeless, depressing franchise with no foreseeable path to sustained success.
Cheering for the defeat of others is like eating cinnamon buns. I defy you to put a number on how many cinnamon buns it takes to make you feel satisfied.
The tasty buns deliver a quick hit of dopamine, but each one makes you feel more miserable than the last.
How Does Schadenfreude Serve Us?
We do the same in our professional lives.
Our neighbor with the sports car loses his job and we sympathize. Secretly, we feel smug about our safe, albeit lower-paying job.
At a meeting, a peer bombs a presentation and we can hardly contain our smirk.
Our former co-worker had the courage to leave and start a business. It isn’t going well and we learn that he is back out interviewing. This justifies our decision of not taking any risks in our career.
The difference between rooting against other fans and rooting against our peers comes down to one major difference. As fans, we have no control over the outcomes of the team.
In business, focusing on the angst and failures of others is a coping mechanism for actions we are not taking personally.
Rather than working harder, taking chances and growing, we look for confirmation that others are in the same boat.
Seeking examples of others who are treading water helps us justify our lack of progress. If everyone was climbing, we would have no choice but to follow.
Parents do the same with children. They feel smug when another child struggles with behavior, academics or athletics. It justifies that their parenting could be worse.
Wouldn’t it be better to focus on helping our children reach their potential than wasting energy concerned with the progress of other kids?
Reading a trashy tabloid might make you feel better in the moment, but does it challenge you to improve? Of course, not.
Rather than reading about movie stars who fell from grace, why not read an inspirational biography of someone you admire?
What if we searched for and admired those who were succeeding? What if we studied this group and used our competitive focus to achieve more?
Be careful. Schadenfreude takes you to a dark place. It makes you more like a Detroit Lions fan.
Join 12,000 insiders who receive my writing and exclusive video content from our leadership program directly to their Inbox.
We value your privacy and will never spam you.