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The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature [Kindle Edition]

Richard H. Smith

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Book Description

Few people will easily admit to taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others. But who doesn't enjoy it when an arrogant but untalented contestant is humiliated on American Idol, or when the embarrassing vice of a self-righteous politician is exposed, or even when an envied friend suffers a small setback? The truth is that joy in someone else's pain-known by the German word schadenfreude--permeates our society.
In The Joy of Pain, psychologist Richard Smith, one of the world's foremost authorities on envy and shame, sheds much light on a feeling we dare not admit. Smith argues that schadenfreude is a natural human emotion, one worth taking a closer look at, as it reveals much about who we are as human beings. We have a passion for justice. Sometimes, schadenfreude can feel like getting one's revenge, when the suffering person has previously harmed us. But most of us are also motivated to feel good about ourselves, Smith notes, and look for ways to maintain a positive sense of self. One common way to do this is to compare ourselves to others and find areas where we are better. Similarly, the downfall of others--especially when they have seemed superior to us--can lead to a boost in our self-esteem, a lessening of feelings of inferiority. This is often at the root of schadenfreude. As the author points out, most instances of schadenfreude are harmless, on par with the pleasures of light gossip. Yet we must also be mindful that envy can motivate, without full awareness, the engineering of the misfortune we delight in. And envy-induced aggression can take us into dark territory indeed, as Smith shows as he examines the role of envy and schadenfreude in the Nazi persecution of the Jews.
Filled with engaging examples of schadenfreude, from popular reality shows to the Duke-Kentucky basketball rivalry, The Joy of Pain provides an intriguing glimpse into a hidden corner of the human psyche.

Product Description


I am grateful that a credible scientist has endeavored to approach this controversial subject. I donât 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...Smithâs easy-to-read and entertaining volume begins a dialog that should take place in the United States and around the globe.

About the Author

Richard H. Smith is Professor of Psychology at the University of Kentucky. He graduated with a degree in English Literature from Brown University and received his Ph.D. in experimental social psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His book, Envy: Theory and Research, was published by Oxford University Press in 2008.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1862 KB
  • Print Length: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (2 July 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
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  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #467,356 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.6 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and well-researched 31 July 2013
By Monica J. Kern - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The German language is full of implausibly long words, but one advantage is that these long words can often capture more precisely a concept where the English language fails. An excellent example of this is "Schadenfreude" (pronounced, roughly, as "sha-den-froy-da"), a word that translated means approximately "joy in the pain of others." Essentially, schadenfreude is that guilty feeling of delight we experience when something bad happens to somebody else, usually somebody that we don't like or have a grudge against for some reason.

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.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stating the obvious. 24 Mar. 2014
By Marius L. Crowne - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Unfortunately, I feel like this book could have probably been a Twitter post. Each chapter of Prof. Smith's book essentially opens with a very obvious statement and then supports it with a summary of a study or two and endless examples, often from TV shows (he cites "The Simpsons" three times in the first 50 pages). I understand that this book is geared toward the layman, but it seems to be that if one knows the definition of "schadenfreude" and is able to make rudimentary observations on human nature, then reading this book will be superfluous. We prefer to see those "superior" to us fail, rather than those that are "inferior;" it is easier for groups to do bad things than it is for individuals; we love to see hypocrisy exposed; we prefer the bad guy to lose over the good guy; etc.

You should read this book if (a) you've never heard the word "schadenfreude" before, (b) you've heard it, but have no idea what it means and have never heard the word "dictionary" before, (c) you live in a hole, (d) you've written a book on schadenfreude and want to see another author fail, or (e) all of the above.

I highly recommend Jonathan Haidts "The Righteous Mind," which, while it focuses on politics and religion, is a much more interesting study of the light and dark sides of human nature and, more importantly, when and why those two sides manifest.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Psychology, Psychiatry, Medical Student Education, Psychatry Resident Education 17 Sept. 2014
By Mickey Grossman - Published on
|TITLE| “The Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature”
|AUTHOR| Professor of Psychology Richard H. Smith Ph.D.
|REVIEWER| Josh Grossman, Colonel [r} U.S. Army Medical Corps, M.D., FACP
|BOOK FORMAT| Hard cover
|BOOK PAGES| 236 pages
|BOOK PUBLISHER| Oxford University Press 2013
|BOOK ISBN| 978-0-19-973454-2
“Schadenfreude: A Feeling of enjoyment that comes out of the misfortures of others”
“Schadenfreude:: Shameful Joy!”
This outstanding well-researched, provocative text appeals directly to me as I am an Eastern European American Caucasian Ashkenazi Jew reasonably mindful of twentieth century history and thus humbly and respectfully appreciative of the information re: Simon Wisenthal (1908 – 2005).
Further I am a Duke Dad humbly and respectfully appreciative of Coach Mike Krcyzewski and his Duke Basketball Blue Devils. With humble apologies to the outstanding University of Kentucky Wildcats, Go Duke!
Lastly it is magnificantly written, far above my own meager and imperfect writing of my book reviews noted below. (1, 2, 3, 4).
All public libraries and all University libraries should have a copy of this book. All incoming Students in our Colleges of Medicine, and first year Psychiatry Residents should be given a copy to discuss with their Mentors.

1. Grossman, Joshua B. Book Review: “The Blind Doctor: The Jacob Bolotin Story,” Tennessee Medicine, page 11. January 2009
2. Grossman, Joshua B. “Book Review: “The Johns Hopkins Internal Medicine Board Review”: 2008 – 2009, 2nd Edition (Certification and Recertification) Tennessee Medicine page 08, August 2010
3. Grossman, Joshua B. Book Review: Mayo Clinic Internal Medicine Review 2006 – 2007 Journal of the American Medical Association {J.A.M.A.}, pages 685—686, 08 August 2007
4. Grossman, Joshua B. Book Review: Treating the Aching Heart: A Guide to Depression, Stress, and Heart Disease, Tennessee Medicine, page 13, October 2007.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars as does the author of this excellent book. Buy it 31 Dec. 2014
By Lyle Walter - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book presents one of the most profound insights on basic human nature more so than any other book that I've ever read; identifying and explaining the nuances of ENVY and JEALOUSY: how these emotions are infused into the social fabric of our world, revealing how they influence us in ways that we can't even begin to understand, unless ... someone explains how these powerful emotions personally affect us, as does the author of this excellent book.

Buy it. Read it. And buy the audible version and listen to it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an interesting book about a fascinating subject. ... 12 Sept. 2014
By 63 hawkeye - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting book about a fascinating subject. In it, the author Richard Smith gives many examples of how schadenfreude is experienced in many areas of life by just about everyone. Probably no one is exempt from these feelings.
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