- Hardcover: 256 pages
- Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (July 31, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0199734542
- ISBN-13: 978-0199734542
- Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1 x 6.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,483,130 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature 1st Edition
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"[An] enjoyable book... worth reading for its insights into the dark side of human nature and the delightful drawings that turn up periodically in the text. Created by the author's daughter, Rosanna Smith, these depictions -- a tortoise raising its arm in victory, Aesop's ant and grasshopper sharing a meal -- give the same sense of delight as those drawings that pepper the pages of The New Yorker." --The New York Times
"The Joy of Pain presents an enjoyable mix of evidence from experimental psychology, pop culture and literature." -- Wall Street Journal
"Smith's portrait of this complex response combines experimental studies with many well-chosen examples drawn from political scandals, biographies, reality-television shows, literature, sitcoms, cartoons and the observations of comedians and satirists. The Joy of Pain is a real joy to read -- and completely painless." --Nature
"Smith's The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature, just out from Oxford University Press, is an entertaining explanation of the phenomenon, told through accounts of research as well as Smith's personal experiences and observations of popular culture." --Chronicle Review
"An accessible, fun, schadenfreudean romp through pop culture (a contestant embarrasses himself on American Idol), sports (an opponent suffers injury), politics (an economic crisis during the other guy's term), and, of course, religion (the downfall of an ultramoral Christian evangelist)." --Publishers Weekly
"Richard Smith's long-awaited book is a profound, thoughtful meditation on one of the most puzzling and disturbing forms of human emotion. Mixing scientific research, popular culture, striking anecdotes, and personal reflection, it is a stimulating, enjoyable, yet unsettling read. I recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in human emotion and motivation -- and to anyone with an abiding curiosity about the peculiar twists and turns of human nature." --Roy F. Baumeister, author of Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
"A very enjoyable read; this is the most comprehensive collection of Schadenfreude research to date. Interweaving the science with historical and fictional anecdotes, Smith contextualizes and thereby humanizes the experience of Schadenfreude -- a feat unto itself. Readers will undoubtedly relish learning more about when and why another's pain can be cause for pleasure." --Mina Cikara, Assistant Professor, Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University
"Richard Smith's wonderful book gives us new insight into ourselves, and the 'dark' emotions of envy and schadenfreude that we all feel, but like to deny. The book is fun and easy to read, even as it gives us insight into some of our darker emotions. You will learn more about yourself and the world from this book than most any book you have read recently. If you want a book that can improve you as a person, this book is it. Although it focuses on dark emotions, it shows the reasons for these emotions, how very pervasive they are, and how they can be overcome." --Ed Diener, Distinguished Professor of Psychology (Emeritus), University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
"Erudite. Enviable. Engaging stories from popular culture, fiction, history, daily life, sports, and science. This will be the book you wish you had written. But instead of schadenfreude, you will feel admiration and gratitude to the author for his profound contribution." --Susan Fiske, Eugene Higgins Professor, Psychology & Public Affairs, Princeton University, author of Envy Up, Scorn Down
"I am grateful that a credible scientist has endeavored to approach this controversial subject. I don't think that I am overreaching when I state that all human beings on earth should understand this concept and acknowledge that it is a part of the human condition, no matter how much we try to deny it. [...] Smith's easy-to-read and entertaining volume begins a dialog that should take place in the United States and around the globe. [...] The Joy of Pain has potential for wide application in academia, particularly the social sciences. However, specialty courses such as ethics in public health and medicine would also benefit from frank discussions of this subject. The text is written in a conversational style, giving it mainstream popular appeal. Every sentient being should read it as an introduction to self-examination." -Tanya Telfair LeBlanc, PsycCRITIQUES
About the Author
Richard H. Smith is Professor of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. He has published articles on various social emotions such as envy and shame and has pioneered experimental work on schadenfreude. His book Envy: Theory and Research was published by Oxford University Press in 2008.
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Top customer reviews
Sorry. That’s my Schadenfreude talking.
Schadenfreude is that familiar sense of pleasure many (most? all?) of us experience when bad things happen to certain people we dislike or are envious of — arrogant celebrities, hypocritical politicians, professional rivals, ex lovers, people of higher (and, oddly, lower) social status, etc.
The author builds the case that Schadenfreude helps humans — the animal, arguably, that is most keenly aware of social positioning, and the most cripplingly reliant upon self worth — deal with the reality that we’re not perfect, nor really even that clever, and that many others are far more successful than us.
Some back-stabby narcissist gets the sweet promotion at work. Some balding sociopath with bad teeth gets the girl or boy of our dreams. Some talentless hack writer gets the accolades and movie deals. Some lying politician we voted for is caught with his pants down. The star player on the sports team we hate is injured and out for the season. That’s when Schadenfreude rears it’s ugly head and reminds us that we were probably better than any of them anyway, and this is what happens to the undeserving. “Don’t worry,” it tells us. “You don’t have to think of yourself as inferior … THEY were clearly inferior. They cheated to get ahead or took shortcuts or were lucky. And they deserved to be found out.” Only then does the universe make sense again.
It also works in the negative, allowing us to transfer our sense of inferiority outward and brand “the other” as a beneath us and deserving of misfortune. Obviously, this can turn out poorly in cases like Nazi Germany.
Schadenfreude, then, is basically an emotional GPS system that allows us to navigate through challenging social situations and external challenges and always arrive back at the desired destination: intact and unruffled self-exceptionalism. After all, if we didn’t feel disproportionately special, how could we ever plod ahead in this cold, cruel world, surrounded by far too many chances to fail. And then die. And then be forgotten.
The book is long on descriptions and illustrative examples but seemed a little short on the science, peppered with just enough classic psychological studies to keep it interesting.
A few of the problem areas: I found the defense of those ensnared by “To Catch a Predator” perplexing (those who seek to manipulate minors being manipulated by the ‘humilitainment industry’ [his words] are low on my sympathy list). The final chapter — the “what to do with this knowledge” section common in many such nonfiction books — felt tacked on and designed for those who might want to feel we’re not simply adrift and at the mercy of our own probably shoddy and overcompensating wiring. “Be more empathetic” is clearly a positive life goal regardless of how well one understands the mechanism of Schadenfreude, but that’s a topic for a slew of self-help books with quizzes at the end of each chapter.
The long, almost penultimate chapter on Tiger Woods and the Schadenfreude generated by his fall from grace was also a puzzler. I was never a fan of Woods, nor golf, but I can’t imagine that such an intense amount of Schadenfreude emanating from his trials and tribulations could be generated by those who were simply envious of him all along. Rather, it seemed something else was in play — so many fans must have enjoyed his talent, they were invested in him and thus disappointed to see it all wasted due to his insatiable drives off the green.
And that led me to wonder if Schadenfreude is also a cushion for disappointment as well as a way of internalizing envy and feelings of insecurity to avoid social distancing and deal with cognitive dissonance and a paralyzing ennui. If so, it seems more like a catch-all phrase than some grand revelation. And if Schadenfreude is a panacea, a reactive response that helps us muddle through anything that threatens our bubble of self-exceptionalism — envy, insecurity, disappointment, hate, recognition of our own flaws, and all the other nasty little feelings that perplex us — perhaps it’s just “being human.”
Still, worth the read for the insights lurking in lines such as “we are biased in our perceptions of deservingness” (in that our Schadenfreude tends to blame inferior personality when bad things happen to others and blame circumstances when they happen to us) and a study that shows “the presence of a vegetarian can make an omnivore self-conscious.” (see, we really don’t preach, your Schadenfreude just makes it feel that way!). And my favorite: “Any factor that amplifies the benefits of other’s misfortunes for ourselves, such as competition, should promote ‘anesthesia of the heart…’”
Buy it. Read it. And buy the audible version and listen to it.
Anthony Weiner getting caught, yet again, sexting photos of his penis? Schadenfreude.
J.J. Redick, former Duke basketball star, getting arrested on a DUI? For this UK (and bitter foe of Duke) basketball fan, schadenfreude.
Ted Haggard, the minister who loudly supported anti-gay legislation, getting caught with a male prostitute? Off-the-top-of-the-scale schadenfreude.
Schadenfreude is one of the most human of emotions, and it is an emotion we don't like to admit we possess. After all, when something bad happens to somebody, principles of most major religions, secular humanism, and moral philosophy would demand that we offer understanding and compassion, not selfish and sneaky delight. Yet that impulse to feel good when others experience a downfall or disaster is often difficult to suppress.
This book written by Richard Smith, a social psychologist at the University of Kentucky, is one of the few scholarly works on the topic of this complex human emotion. In 11 expertly written chapters, Smith reviews what causes the emotion of schadenfreude, and the crucial role played by personal gain, envy, deservingness, and hypocrisy. In short, we are particularly prone to feel schadenfreude when we stand to personally benefit from the other's downfall, when we envy the other--whom we also believe to be a hypocrite--and we believe the other person to have deserved his or her downfall. These conclusions have all been supported through various studies conducted by Smith and other psychologists, with the studies being described in clear, not overly technical, detail. He closes the volume with a discussion of ways in which we can minimize or try to prevent schadenfreude.
As a social psychologist myself (and--full disclosure--a former colleague of Smith's), I have read lots of trade books and pop psychology books. What sets this book apart from the crowd is the quality of Smith's writing and the broad intellectual foundation that he brings to the book. Smith has a background in literature and journalism that is unusual for an academic psychologist. He is a true Renaissance scholar, well read in a variety of disciplines, and it shows in his writing, which is peppered with examples from great literature, film, current events, and popular culture (his first chapter begins with an example from the Simpsons). The breadth of Smith's background also makes the book a delight to read; his writing style is informal, not stuffy, and the reader will find little or no academic jargon in its pages. As such, while I am sure this book will appear on the syllabi for countless graduate seminars in psychology, I think it will also make a welcome contribution to the general nonfiction literature. I am guessing that fans of Malcolm Gladwell, for example, would similarly enjoy this book greatly.
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|AUTHOR| Professor of Psychology Richard H. Smith Ph.D.