Weltschmerz (from the German, meaning world-pain or world-weariness, pronounced [ˈvɛltʃmɛɐ̯ts]) is a term coined by the German author Jean Paul and denotes the kind of feeling experienced by someone who understands that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind. This kind of pessimisticworld view was widespread among several romantic authors such as Lord Byron, Giacomo Leopardi, François-René de Chateaubriand, Alfred de Musset,Nikolaus Lenau, Hermann Hesse, and Heinrich Heine. It is also used to denote the feeling of sadness when thinking about the evils of the world—compareempathy, theodicy.
The modern meaning of Weltschmerz in the German language is the psychological pain caused by sadness that can occur when realizing that someone’s own weaknesses are caused by the inappropriateness and cruelty of the world and (physical and social) circumstances. Weltschmerz in this meaning can cause depression, resignation and escapism, and can become a mental problem (compare to Hikikomori). The modern meaning should also be compared with the concept of anomie, or a kind of alienation, that Émile Durkheim wrote about in his sociological treatise Suicide. John Steinbeck wrote about this feeling in The Winter of Our Discontent and referred to it as the Welshrats; and in East of Eden, it is felt by Samuel Hamilton after meeting Cathy Trask for the first time. Ralph Ellison uses the term in Invisible Man with regard to the pathos inherent in the singing of spirituals: “…beneath the swiftness of the hot tempo there was a slower tempo and a cave and I entered it and looked around and heard an old woman singing a spiritual as full of Weltschmerz as flamenco.” In music, pseudo-Weltschmerz, and especially dark “romanticism,” play an important part in Gothic rock. Kurt Vonnegut references this feeling in his novel Player Piano; it is felt by Doctor Paul Proteus and his father.