I wasn’t sure if I should write about this or not. It’s the sort of subject where, unless I  strike precisely the right tone, there’s a good chance that I’ll come out of this sounding like a dick-head. You see, what I want to talk about involves—ever so slightly—finding joy in the suffering of others. Only slightly though, I really can’t stress that enough…

Now before you get on your high-horse—you’ve definitely done this before. As kids, we all experienced the delight of watching a sibling get into trouble. And doesn’t Jeremy Kyle make his money from millions of people who love nothing better than watching the mentally impaired squabble over which of their cousins is the real father of their baby? Don’t worry, you’re not a bad person—this is simply the morale hoover at work.

We all have one. For most of us, it lies just beneath the surface; showing itself only briefly in the form of laughter upon seeing someone fall off their bicycle or bump their head in a door-way. What I aim to do is help you understand this invaluable tool and harness it for yourself. (And yes—seeing someone fall off a bike is hilarious)

At school, I was forced to run cross-country (you never hear people call it that anymore, do you?), despite hating it. Unfortunately, hating running wasn’t enough to get you out of PE back then. I was skinny and fast, so I didn’t get a say in the matter.

Homer Simpson attempting to go for a jog and getting out of breath

I was (and still am) terrible at running long distance. People say it’s a great way of clearing your mind and alleviating stress, but I’m far too focused on how tired, sore and miserable I am for my mind to clear. It’s also one of the worst sports to lose at. At least losing in a 100-metre sprint is over with quickly. If you’re dead-last in a marathon at mile 6, you’ve got hours of being a loser ahead of you.

But when I was about 13, I noticed that I wasn’t the only miserable one out there. In fact, some people looked even more pitiful that me! Somehow, seeing this made everything much easier. For some reason, the more they suffered, the better I felt. It was as if they were exhaling happiness, and I was inhaling it all for myself. I had discovered the morale-hoover

My life would never be the same again.

Since then I’ve used the morale-hoover to run half-marathons, mud-runs and even get through Royal Marines training. Was it easy? No. But you can bet there were plenty of utterly miserable people from whom I could steal morale.

Implementing the Morale Hoover

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you go around intentionally upsetting people in order to drain their life-force. But, if they’re already a mess, why not benefit from it? The trick here is to start thinking of joy as a type of energy—it can neither be created nor destroyed. It’s got to go somewhere. It may as well go to you. That’s the first law of thermodynamics. So you could say that this is backed by science!

I’d like to stress that this is not necessarily about taking pleasure in someone else’s pain. For a start, we’re not calling it that (which makes it ok), and second—it can work even better if you try to help that person.

Next time you’re involved in something arduous, say, a race of some kind or even just walking in heavy rain; have a look for someone else who’s suffering too. They don’t even have to be suffering more than you—just enough so it’s noticeable. Make it your sole purpose for the remainder of the event to encourage them. This works well for two reasons:

  1. Offering them encouragement helps to highlight the fact that you’re fairing better than they are. It takes effect instantly as your focus shifts from your own pain onto theirs.
  2. You get brownie points for being kind an encouraging, despite your motives being purely selfish. Remember—you’re helping

(Of course, you could argue that there’s a third reason—it’s making them feel better. But this isn’t really our aim here, so I wouldn’t worry about that. The morale hoover is about helping yourself whilst pretending to help others. Don’t be a hero…)

Finally, what if there genuinely isn’t a single person who seems to be suffering? That’s the beauty of the morale hoover—just start encouraging the nearest person anyway. Their mood will drop as they wonder why a complete stranger has started showing concern for them. Particularly if they thought they had been doing quite well—”Is there something wrong with me?” they’ll think, “Am I doing something wrong?”. If they weren’t suffering before, it won’t be long before they are.

You’re welcome.

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