Tag Archives: Jean Paul

Weltschmerz and Anomie

She looks into her darkened glass, to the edge of the earth,

And monitors the landscape to find out what she’s worth.

A hole has opened up inside her which the bottle can no longer fill.

The time has come to cut this thread, and hang her heart onto something new.

In his book East of Eden, John Steinbeck introduced me to a term coined by German author Jean Paul. Weltschmerz is a term derived from the Germanic words Welt (world) and Schmerz (pain). Steinbeck defined Weltschmerz as “An ache of apprehension that is like a sick thought; the world sadness that rises into the soul like a gas and spreads despair so that you probe for the offending event and can find none.” I suspect that Weltschmerz is something that affects every human being at one time or another.

Some of us allow Weltschmerz to grow into something sociologist Emile Durkheim termed as Anomie. This is a condition in which human desires are left unchecked and unbounded. The condition often leads to depression and suicide. Basically the affected individual “aspires to everything and is satisfied with nothing.” Sound familiar? Having boundless desire is a beautiful part of human nature. However, if not harnessed to a goal or plan, our desire is a sure recipe for disaster.

It seems to me that the best way to avoid Anomie would be to realize who we are and why we are here. That’s often not an easy question to answer. In search for the answer some people turn to religion. Others turn to drugs, television, sex, or adventure. We’re all searching for something bigger than ourselves. But do we really need to look outside of ourselves or do we just need to learn to manage our own expectations?

You may not be the next Jimi Hendrix, John Steinbeck, Thomas Edison, or Albert Einstein. You probably won’t cure cancer or create world peace but you still have something worthwhile to contribute to the conversation. No one knows your abilities and limitations better than you know yourself. Grab a hold on that knowledge.

Perhaps the time has come to cut this thread, and hang your heart onto something new.


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