In a primary school in South Korea, a teacher asked the students to think how happy they are when watching a video of children with famine in Africa. The teacher meant that they must be happier compared to poor children. Then one of the students responded "It's wrong that one feels happy to know other's unhappiness." When I read this article, I deeply agreed with the student. I think most of the NGOs for children in need are using that kind of way to move people and to encourge them to donate. That is, the organizations make people compare themselves to the poor and feel happier and sympathy for the poor. Then they would be willing to donate for the poor. I think this method is effective but wrong. I wonder if those organizations take the wrong method or I am wrong. Could you please let me know your opinion on this issue?

Consider the situation in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. When I think about the people on that island, I don't feel happy; I feel distress. Imagining myself in their situation is painful. That distress is an in-the-moment feeling. If I shift my focus to something else, the feeling abates or disappears. If I turn my attention back to Puerto Rico, the distress returns.

That said, I'm also glad that I'm not living in the midst of that devastation. I am glad even in those moments when I feel distressed about the plight of people living on the island. This "gladness" isn't so much an in-the-moment feeling as a recognition that I have something to be thankful for. In fact, it seems odd to say that I'm happy not to be struggling in the way that the people of Puerto Rico are, even though we sometimes talk that way. Insofar as I'd put it that way, it would be another way to say that I'm relieved or thankful. To whatever extent there's a feeling that goes with that gratitude, it sits in a complicated relationship with distress.

Emotions aren't just "raw feels." Emotions have a cognitive component, and describing them sometimes call for a subtlety that's beyond the reach even of otherwise articulate people. What primary-school children have to say is unlikely to get it right. Do the children feel happy with then think about starving African children? If we looked for the physiological signs of pleasure or contentment, would we expect to find them? I'd guess not.

Charities do try to make us feel sympathy for victims of disasters. But if I feel sympathy for someone, I am at least somewhat moved by their plight. The word "moved" is an interesting one because it suggests motivation. I may give to a Puerto Rican relief fund precisely because thinking about the terrible situation Puerto Ricans find themselves in motivates me to do something. I'm not donating because thinking about people's distress makes me feel happy. I'm moved to donate partly because I don't feel happy when I contemplate the devastation.

There are problems here. Decisions about charitable giving shouldn't simply be a matter of which things I feel worst about. That leaves too much to chance. But that's another issue. The point for now is that NGOs and relief organizations aren't trying to make us feel happy. They're trying to get us to recognize and respond to desperate situations. Accurate descriptions of the emotions that go with the recognition are complicated, and "happiness" is an odd word to use in trying to get it right.

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