Head of School Matt Green
Although we educators tend to think of Labor Day as the beginning of our “new year,” it is nonetheless always a pleasure to welcome students back after winter break and wish them a Happy New Year at a time when the rest of the world happens to celebrate that occasion.  On Tuesday, we officially kicked off 2023 at All-School Meeting, where I invited the students to join me in adopting a mindset that I hope will carry us all through the sometimes challenging winter months.  

I asked the audience, many of whom are accomplished German scholars, if they were familiar with the term “schadenfreude.”  To my (pleasant) surprise, none were able, or perhaps willing, to proffer a definition so Academic Dean Dr. Petra Ehrenbrink came to my rescue, explaining that it is a German word used to describe the pleasure one takes in observing the misfortunes of others, which some believe is a universal feeling that comes over us when we are envious of others’ accomplishments or when we see someone gets “what’s coming to them.”  I referred them to Julia Fraga’s guest essay in the New York Times who in turn referred her readers to one study that found that “schadenfreude on social media can ice out empathy, making people less compassionate toward those who differ from them,” and another that “suggests that delighting in the mishaps of others can actually lower a person’s self-esteem.”

Instead, I joined Fraga in urging the students to adopt the opposite mindset, what social psychologists refer to, somewhat cheekily, as “freudenfreude,” loosely defined as “the bliss we feel when someone else succeeds,” because intentionally doing so, however difficult, actually has a positive effect on our own sense of well-being.   Again according to Fraga and the social scientists she cites, “Sharing in someone else’s joy can also foster resilience, improve life satisfaction and help people cooperate during a conflict.”

A preoccupation with fairness, comparing all the good things that do or do not come our way and that we may or may not deserve with all the good things that come others’ way (and which they may or may not deserve) is a losing proposition.  Instead, I urged students to relish, in a conscious and disciplined way, the success of others.  I encouraged them to seek it out and invite others to share it (“Gimme some good news!”), to listen with full attention and a full heart, to embrace the notion that when a person in the community succeeds, the community itself succeeds, and to take the opportunity, when good fortune comes our way, to share credit where credit is due.  And that they do so not out of any moral obligation but to some extent out of selfish motives, because doing so will just make them feel better.

I closed my talk as I will close this post: Happy New Year and Happy Freuden-freuding!
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