Emotional Competency

Explore the Logic of Passion


Gloating
Pleased about another's mishap

You see the other guy mess up and you can hardly keep from smiling. You are gloating at their mishap. We all seem to enjoy seeing a jerk get what he deserves. Perhaps you feel a bit guilty or shameful for not feeling compassion, but you believe their mishap is their own fault.

Definitions

Greed Revenge and Other Devils Gloat Over the Treaty of Versailles
  1. Pleased about an event undesirable for another
  2. Pleased about another's mishap.
  3. Celebrating a rival's mistakes.

Root: Probably from Old Norse glotta smile scornfully.

Note that envy and gloating have parallel structures. Envy is when you feel bad because a rival did well, and gloating is when you feel good because a rival did badly.

Related Terms

The English language terms: celebrate, crow, glory, rejoice, relish, rub it in, taunting, triumph, vaunt, and whoop are inexact synonyms for gloating. The word Schadenfreude, borrowed from German is a close synonym. We also speak of someone getting their “just deserts” or their comeuppance when we are referring to gloating.

Humor and Gloating

Gloating is at the root of certain forms of humor. We laugh when the slap-stick comic falls down, especially if he is not seriously hurt, and if the fall could have been prevented. We laugh when people in power are “knocked down a peg” and are “put in their place” and perhaps made to look a bit silly. The emotion is stronger the less we care about the person, the more we hold them responsible for the misdeed, and the more the event was unexpected. Gloating is especially sweet if we envied the person or sought revenge on them. All this makes for especially good gossip. Our laughing (and gossip) draws attention to the preventable mistake (including hubris) and encourages others to learn from and avoid similar mistakes.

Pity, Responsibility, and Gloating

We feel pity and compassion when an unfortunate person is hurt. But we gloat when someone is hurt as a result of their own clumsiness, stupidity, pride, greed, or carelessness. Our assessment of their responsibility for the problem is the key distinction. If we believe they could have prevented the problem, we hold them responsible for their own pain; we gloat and hope they learned their lesson. If the hurt was an unavoidable misfortune, then we pity the poor person because they had no role or responsibility for the loss. Gloating is about mistakes, compassion is about misfortune. The degree of hurt or suffering also distinguishes gloating from pity. We gloat when the pain suffered seems proportional to our dislike of the person; in that case they are simply getting what they deserve. But we are likely to pity someone who suffers a true tragedy, even if we don't like them. The degree of dislike also influences the intensity of gloating. The more we dislike the person, the more intensely we gloat at their mishap. This is reciprocity in action.

We feel contempt for someone who is demonstrating their characteristic lower stature. We gloat when someone of high status we don't care about is responsible for causing their own temporary setback.

Quotations

  • He who laughs last, laughs best

References

The Cognitive Structure of Emotions, by Andrew Ortony, Gerald L. Clore, Allan Collins 

The Origin of Emotions, Version 1.0, by Mark Devon

Fear, Sadness, Anger, Joy, Surprise, Disgust, Contempt, Anger, Envy, Jealousy, Fright, Anxiety, Guilt, Shame, Relief, Hope, Sadness, Depression, Happiness, Pride, Love, Gratitude, Compassion, Aesthetic Experience, Joy, Distress, Happy-for, Sorry-for, Resentment, Gloating, Pride, Shame, Admiration, Reproach, Love, Hate, Hope, Fear, Satisfaction, Relief, Fears-confirmed, Disappointment, Gratification, Gratitude, Anger, Remorse, power, dominance, stature, relationships

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