Weltschmerz – World Weary


Alan White

Welschmerz (Pronounced, Velchsmearts), is a German work which means:

  1. Mental depression or apathy caused by comparison of the actual state of the world with an ideal state.
  2. A mood of sentimental sadness.

We do not have a word to describe this feeling in the English language, but it sums up how many people are feeling today. Have you ever felt glum or sad for a period of time, and you can’t quite put your finger on the reason why? I would argue that it is due to Weltschmerz, or world weariness.

We all have strong pictures in our minds of how we would like the world to be for us. Think about it. We all play out scenarios in our minds, imagining how an upcoming event, meeting or interaction with someone will go. Before we ever do anything or take any action, we usually have a fairly strong picture in our minds as to how we want things to go. However, very often what the world gives us back is sometimes slightly different, sometimes a very different version of this picture. This can be frustrating, and because this can happen many times every day of our lives, this constant strain between our ideal world and the real world can take its toll on us.

An everyday example of this would be something like this. I go into a shop looking for a specific item, in this case let’s say new shoes! Entering the shop I am excited about getting the new pair of shoes and I have a clear picture in my mind of what type of shoes I want. However when I get there I find that the shop has sold out of the style I want. Not only that but when I approach the sales assistant to ask whether they will be getting the shoes back in stock, they are not very helpful and in fact a bit rude.

Regular frustrations like this, although they seem small and insignificant can build up in our memory and begin to take their toll. Ok, so not getting the shoes I want might not be the worst thing that could happen, but I think it illustrates the idea of clashing pictures in our minds quite well.

Let’s look at another example. Our important relationships. This is where Weltschmertz can begin to take hold of us. All of us have strong pictures in our minds about how we would like the important people in our lives to be. We want our families to be perfect, we want our partners to be everything we ever dreamed of, we want our kids to be clever, respectful and well-behaved. However as we all know, every person in our lives, is not and cannot live up to the high expectations we have of them all the time. We are all individuals who behave in different ways at different times, for many different reasons.

The people closest to us are not always going to behave in ways that we approve of and this often leads to conflict and frustration. However by simply recognising the fact that the pictures you have in your mind of how someone should be will not always match how they actually are, will help you begin to see how you can change your own behaviour or reaction to things they may say or do, that you don’t agree with. Instead of causing conflict, by trying to see the reasons why they are behaving in this way, can open you up to a new empathetic response that will bring you closer together rather than causing conflict in your relationship.

We all become world weary at times. Especially in our modern world where we instantly hear about the many problems there are, the tragedies that happen, the economic woes we have etc. no wonder we are experiencing Weltchsmertz more and more. However I believe that every emotion we feel serves an important purpose. Therefore when we are feeling a little apathetic or world weary I think it is our body and mind telling us it’s time to take a little time out. Take time to think about all the good things that we have. Organise something enjoyable to look forward to, get out for a long walk, or whatever it is that allows you to feel good about the world again.

And don’t forget to turn to the people in your life when you are feeling Weltschmerz. Our family and friends are the ones who will show us that the world can be a positive place. And don’t forget to get some rest. As the old Irish saying goes, “A good laugh and a long sleep are the two best cures for anything”.

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