What's a word for an emotion that's akin to happiness but felt by someone so mean that you doubt they're capable of true happiness? As "smirk" is to "smile", this word is to "happy".

  • 4
    I don't think English has a good word for that, but I agree it's a good analogy. Perhaps the word Schadenfreude, borrowed from German with its meaning 'pleasure derived from the suffering of others'. But that's specific for cause, rather than effect. Jan 20, 2014 at 0:16

5 Answers 5


Victor Hugo has often been quoted as using "dark happiness" to describe this sort of thing. I don't believe I've ever personally read the book or piece this was pulled from, though. There is also a psychologist by the name of June Gruber who researches happiness. Though she does cover maladaptive happiness, she never uses a term for it other than the aforementioned, which makes me think one does not exist in English.

You might also want to research the Greek roots that comprise the word epicaricacy.

ἐπί (epí, “upon”) + χαρά (khará, “joy”) + κακός (kakós, “evil”)

I'm also reminded of the recent use of "troll" to describe individuals that derive happiness from malice and discord.

I've also heard "feigned happiness" used in a few lectures, but not sure that's mainstream enough yet to be used without clarification.

As @john-lawler mentioned, schadenfreude is also a possibility depending on the flavor you're going for. Avenue Q used this word. If the following conveys what you're going for, then schadenfreude may be the word for you.

DISCLAIMER: Schadenfreude is not a word originally conceived in this musical. Google indicates that this word entered the English language around 1840.

Straight-A students getting Bs?

Exes getting STDs!

Waking doormen from their naps!

Watching tourists reading maps!

Football players getting tackled!

CEOs getting shackled!

Watching actors never reach

The ending of their Oscar speech!

"Schadenfreude" from Avenue Q, written by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Great musical if you've never seen it ;-)

  • 1
    Schadenfreude entered English far before Avenue Q.
    – virmaior
    Jan 20, 2014 at 2:11
  • @virmaior That's why I said "is becoming a relatively common word..thanks to" instead of "brought into English by." I'm crediting it with increasing it's popularity, not coining it.
    – emsoff
    Jan 20, 2014 at 2:14
  • 1
    From my standpoint, it was relatively common prior to that...
    – virmaior
    Jan 20, 2014 at 2:15
  • @virmaior Mmk. Added a disclaimer.
    – emsoff
    Jan 20, 2014 at 2:21

I'm not native, but remembered...:

  • to gloat

probably rather for the activity of beeing happy, not the state of mind.

Monstrous and abominable eyes they were, bestial and yet filled with purpose and with hideous delight, gloating over their prey trapped beyond all hope of escape.

(about Shelob in LoTR; also in some different contexts about Gollum and Smaug ... well, I just have it electronically, that's why I searched here :))


You could preface happiness with the adjective "vicious" or "vindictive".

  • 3
    Maybe vicious glee?
    – bib
    Jan 20, 2014 at 2:56

Perhaps malicious merriment?

(Not a single word, but other than the Germanic, we are at a loss so far.)


I would suggest something from the latin word risus.

See for instance risible per merriam-webster:

1. a : capable of laughing b : disposed to laugh

2 arousing or provoking laughter; especially : laughable

3 associated with, relating to, or used in laughter

This root is often associated with mocking laughter and smiles rather than the more normal kind.

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