Thursday, October 17, 2013

Joy of Pain: Schadenfreude and the Dark Side of Human Nature by Richard Smith. 238 Pages


Schadenfreude is a German word meaning taking joy in someone else’s pain. Tellingly, there is not a specific English word for this emotion which points to just how much we don’t like to admit how gleeful we can feel when an adversary,  arrogant coworker or holier than thou preacher is caught in a compromising situation. In short, when others go down, many of us feel up.

Smith takes this all too familiar emotion and tries to figure out why humans exhibit it, what prompts it, and what it tell us about our inner lives and personalities. He also asks the question that if humans can recognize it and it’s part of human nature, what evolutionary advantage does it have – why was this emotion adapted into our genome? Smith offers up some interesting suggestions.

This is not a self-help book and Smith offers no pop answers about how to deal with it. But after reading and enjoying the book, you can at least recognize it in yourself and understand why it arises.

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