Sarah Geegan

By

College: Arts and Sciences

'The Joy of Pain' Explores Hidden Corner of Human Psyche

Published: Aug 15, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 15, 2013) And when I see how sad you are; it sort of makes me happy, happy…" go the lyrics from the Broadway musical, "AVENUE Q."

 

Many of us have felt it, though we don't admit it: spiteful joy in response to the pain or misfortune of others. It may stem from envy, self-esteem concerns or even a passion for justice, but whether or not we confess to it, the feeling exists universally. The good news is that psychologists believe these are natural human emotions; there are psychological and adaptive foundations to back them up.

 

UK psychology Professor Richard Smith's new book "The Joy of Pain," provides a glimpse into this hidden corner of the human psyche, teasing out the science behind the malicious glee people experience from others' pain, known as schadenfreude — a German word  joining "schaden" meaning "harm" and "freude" meaning "joy." Using examples from popular culture, television, sports and politics, he shows how pervasive schadenfreude is in our lives.

 

"A large part of our emotional life results from how we compare with others," Smith said. "We gain from another person's misfortune when a 'downward comparison' boosts our rank and self-worth. This is no small benefit."

 

Envy, often the trigger for schadenfreude, can result in revenge fantasies which manifest in the current TV genre of “humilitainment,” and it is seen in many other realms of daily life including politics, Hollywood and sports.

 

Sports references should strike a chord with University of Kentucky basketball fans. In his section "The Emotional Life of the True Fan," Smith describes an experiment he conducted with UK supporters in reference to the UK-Duke basketball rivalry.

 

"In the world of spectator sports, emotions run high and frank expressions of schadenfreude are more common than in other areas of life," Smith said. "In sports, people are freer to voice their darker feelings — the same feelings that in most other contexts would be shameful. Research shows that the average fan is quite capable, in some circumstances, of being pleased over injuries to players on opposing teams."

 

But beyond the passing pleasure we might get from seeing a competitor fail, Smith even asserts that envy provides a way of understanding why the Nazis delighted in brutally treating the Jews, even when these actions were counterproductive.

 

"Our cooperative, empathic instincts are a significant part of human nature, but competition is woven into so many aspects of everyday life," Smith said. "The consequences of inferiority in love and at work are hard to ignore, and envy is understandable, inevitable and probably adaptive in its own way."

 

Smith argues that it is unreasonable to think that we can stop feeling envy and, furthermore, stop our envy from setting the stage for schadenfreude. As guilty as it might also make us feel, the pleasure resulting from the suffering of someone we envy is just too sharp.

 

"Richard Smith's long-awaited book is a profound, thoughtful meditation on one of the most puzzling and disturbing forms of human emotion," said Roy F. Baumeister, author of "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength." "Mixing scientific research, popular culture, striking anecdotes and personal reflection, it is a stimulating, enjoyable, yet unsettling read. I recommend 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."

 

 

 

MEDIA CONTACT: Sarah Geegan, (859) 257-5365; sarah.geegan@uky.edu

joy_of_pain_photo.jpg
September
 
1
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Labor Day - Academic Holiday
Mon
2
Employee Educational Assistance Award
Internship Info Session
Student/Faculty/Staff Mixer
Tue
3
Employee Educational Assistance Award
LNFS Presents: The Wolf of Wall Street
Last Day to Add a Class
Last Day to Drop a Course with 80% Refund
UK Volunteer Fair
Wed
4
LNFS Presents: Children of Men
LNFS Presents: How To Train Your Dragon 2
Black and Latino Male Initiative
Advance Your Swagger: A Night with Fonzworth Bentely
Thu
5
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Northern Iowa
Kentucky Volleyball vs. USC
LNFS Presents: Spirited Away
LNFS Presents: Mulan
Fri
6
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Kentucky Football vs. Ohio
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Creighton
Lets Swing Dance!
Sat
7
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Morehead State
Sun
8
Diversity Organization's Council
Kosher/Soul? (Jewish, African American & Appalachian culture Fuse)
Mon
9
Rock Star Professionalism Series
Tue
10
Massage on the Go
College: Do the Right Thing- A conversation with Dr. Smith
LNFS Presents: Fight Club
Wed
11
LNFS Presents: Mr & Mrs Smith
LNFS Presents: 22 Jump Street
Thu
12
LNFS Presents: Searching For Sugarman
LNFS Presents: Sin City
Fri
13
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Men's Soccer vs. ETSU
Sat
14
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Pepperdine
Sun
15
Kentucky Week Farmer's MarCat and Craft Fair
Majestic U.N.I.T.Y.
Mon
16
Justice Delayed not Justice Denied: A Talk with Dough Jones
PRHBTN Gallery Reception and Concert
Men's Soccer vs. Xavier
Tue
17
Internship Info Session
Last Day to Drop a Course Without Appearing on Transcript
Caregiver Support Group
LNFS Presents: The Immigrant
Wed
18
LNFS Presents: Watermark
LNFS Presents: X-Men: Days of Future Past
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Lipscomb
Thu
19
LNFS Presents: A Band Called Death
LNFS Presents: Prisoners
Men's Soccer vs. Furman
Fri
20
Kentucky Volleyball vs. Xavier
Sat
21
 
Sun
22
Kentucky Law Schools Forum
Mon
23
Employer Showcase
Men's Soccer vs. Lousville
Tue
24
Employer Showcase
Last Day to Drop a Course with 50% Refund
UK Elder Care Lunch & Learn
LNFS Presents: Saving Mr. Banks
Wed
25
LNFS Presents: Culture Jam
LNFS Presents: Maleficent
Thu
26
LNFS Presents: Ponyo
LNFS Presents: The Little Mermaid
Women's Soccer vs. Mississippi State
Fri
27
Kentucky Football vs. Vanderbilt
Free Saturday Swing Dance Lessons
Sat
28
Kentucky Women's Soccer vs. Auburn
Sun
29
 
Mon
30
 
Tue
 
 
 
 
Sep 02
Internship Info Session 09/02/2014
Reset Page