The International Words That Perfectly Describe Your Emotions

You probably don’t recognize the words sukah, uitwaaien or gigil, but you’ve definitely experienced their meaning.

When is the last time you felt sukha — a genuine, lasting happiness independent of your circumstances? Or gigil — the irresistible urge to squeeze someone because you love them? They are prime examples of words that perfectly describe universal human experiences but don’t have a one-word English translation.

In a recent piece on the BBC, writer David Robson explores the Positive Lexicography Project, a movement spearheaded by Tim Lomas, PhD, lecturer at the University of East London, and author in positive psychology, that identifies and collects global words representing a specific emotional experience that have no English equivalent.

Lomas was first inspired to start the project after learning about the Finnish concept of sisu, an “extraordinary determination in the face of adversity” that far surpasses the connotations of English words like grit or perseverance.

Robson reports that Lomas hopes “learning these words will offer us a richer, more nuanced understanding of ourselves because they offer a different way of seeing the world by drawing our attention to fleeting sensations we have long ignored.”

Other words from Lomas’ lexicography include:

  • Tarab (Arabic) — a musically induced state of ecstasy or enchantment
  • Shinrin-yoku (Japanese) — the practice of spending time in nature (forests in particular)
  • Uitwaaien (Dutch) — the revitalising effects of taking a walk in the wind

The BBC’s piece points to research by professor Lisa Feldman Barrett at Northeastern University that supports Lomas’s work and shows that our ability to recognize and classify our emotions can have extensive benefits. Interestingly, she found that this ability can determine how well we cope with life. For example, being able to differentiate between sadness or anxiety can better dictate what you need in the moment, whether it’s chatting with a friend or relaxing and watching a funny sitcom.

The Positive Lexicography Project might inspire us to try new things or maybe even help us appreciate known experiences with a new perspective.

Read more here.