The Book of Human Emotions: From Ambiguphobia to Umpty - 154 Words from Around the World for How We Feel - Tiffany Watt Smith 2016


An unexpected bit of good news can change the emotional weather. A friend with a new baby; a neighbor discharged from the hospital. When good things happen to people we’re fond of, a little glance of sunshine is sent in our direction too, making everything just that little bit brighter (except when it doesn’t; see: ENVY).

It was not always this way. From the Old Norse gladr (bright or smooth), the earliest use of glad described the appearance of a glittering, shining thing. This meaning still lingers in the expressions “glad rags,” or “glad eye”—the twinkle that attracts a lover. In the fourteenth century gladsum, or gladsomenesse, began to be used to describe a brightening of the soul too, a sparky, bouncing feeling, which today we might be more likely to call JOY.

It was probably as a result of the new fashion for being happy in the eighteenth century that the meaning of gladness became more muted. Children with a new toy could be glad, as could inanimate objects such as bells and Christmas tidings. It became linked to those moments when mild worries cease, or niggling tasks are completed—”I’m glad I caught you,” “I’m glad it got fixed” (see also: RELIEF).

It might seem to have become a rather limp emotion—except that at this time it also became linked to pleasure felt on someone else’s behalf, a particular kind of EMPATHY. This makes it a very valuable addition to the emotional lexicon. Where happiness has come to mean something we earnestly orchestrate for ourselves, gladness is the emotion of happy accidents and unexpected uplifts of the soul. And points to our willingness to be affected by the moods of other people, and celebrate on their behalf.

See also: WARM GLOW.