Can we create new emotions? No, but we can become better at identifying them with the help of a design student who has created a map of complex and emotional states. Combining words and expressions from other countries, Pei-Ying Lin’s project Unspeakableness puts a visual on what we usually only talk about. Most of us are well versed with; happy, sad, angry, depressed, excited ,and a small number of others. Maybe on a good day we can recall; melancholic, morose, indignant or content, but it is a small spectrum that we usually draw from. Most of the time I can’t identity my feelings, they don’t fall into one blanket statement of “today I am happy” which switches after a stressful day to “now I am not sad.”
Feelings and emotions are too muddled for that. And our language doesn’t always reflect the complexity. Take “Gezelligheid,” a Dutch word on the map that identifies the “comfort and coziness of being at home, with friends, with loved ones, or general togetherness.” Then there is “Saudade” the “somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. Longing for something that might never return. Yearning.” It is why our evolution must not forget to include the evolution of our language. This does not include a debasement of language, such as allowing lol, omg and other text/internet language to develop into acceptable formality, but the evolution that there are some things we try to say that are difficult to express in the words we are given.
A person who comes into our office, complaining that they’re not happy, might not be depressed, in the general sense, but feeling “Tocka.” A Russian belief of spiritual anguish, often without any cause. Ache of soul, a longing with nothing to long for.” Or the Japanese equivalent of “missing something. The sense of longing, being nostalgic for something, someone, or somewhere.” People don’t fit into boxes, and neither do emotions. How often must we describe our mood as “just off” because happy, sad, or the norm just won’t cut it?
I used to joke that sound effects were the better communicating factor of what emotion you are feeling than any word could. You hear a sigh of disappointment and not only can you recognize the emotion, but you empathize it more than hearing them say “I am disappointed.” A sharp intake of breath, or it’s hissing release through teeth all accompany a different complex emotional reaction to something, even without the word to speak it. Describing the effects of feelings can sometimes give a better idea. Ask someone what they are feeling and you might get one of the accepted words off the list or an non-descript version of “not so good.” Ask a person to describe a feeling, and suddenly imagery does the rest. “Why I feel as though an elephant is sitting on my chest, while my small gnomes play the drums on my heart and I can’t even grip my phone because I’m sweating so much.” Ah…so much clearer, you might be extremely anxious, or the Chinese word for “A mixture of uneasiness and worry, as if you can feel your own heart beat.”
And to close, quoting The Dead Poet’s Society- N.H. Kleinbaum
“Avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys- to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”
By: Courtney Kidd, LMSW
SJS Staff Writer