Describing Emotions



In my last blog I described the fundamental principle of behavioural economics, the idea that humans operate with two types of thinking. Subconscious and conscious thinking. Also referred to as emotional and rational thinking. Or system 1 and system 2 thinking.

The gap between the two types of thinking also shows up when we try to describe experiences and emotions using words.

Have you ever read a piece of poetry or heard a song lyric that captured beautifully a feeling you’ve experienced, but you’d never have been able to adequately put into words yourself?

It’s so difficult, because our use of words and language is mainly a conscious, rational activity, while in contrast, the feelings and emotions we want to describe are subconscious, emotional experiences. We simply struggle to find words that are adequate enough to describe the richness and nuance of emotions.

Last week I introduced you to the word “tartle”, a Scottish word that describes that panicky feeling we experience when we are about to introduce someone and we realise we have forgotten their name. There are some more wonderful examples in other languages, where they have words we don’t have in English, that describe emotions and experiences we are all familiar with. Here are a couple of my favourites:

Hygge - This fairly well-known Danish word describes that pleasant, genial feeling of being warm and cozy indoors in winter.

Iktsuarpok - This Inuit word describes the irresistible urge we have to keep looking out of the window when we are expecting a visitor to arrive. (A modern version of this is probably checking your phone every few minutes if you are expecting a message!)

Pena Ajena - These two Spanish words describe the acute embarrassment we feel on behalf of other people, such as when a singer drops a note singing on stage, or someone falls over in public.

Gjensynsglede - The Norwegians have a word for the joy you feel when you meet up with someone you haven’t seen in ages.

Here are some other experiences I think there should be words for:

• The growing sense of alarm you feel when your mobile phone battery has less than 5% charge remaining.

• The disappointment you feel when something turns out not to be as good as advertised. Like a holiday destination, a tinder date or an apartment you have viewed.

• The joy of waking up early and realizing you still have two hours of sleep before the alarm goes off.

• The pleasant feeling you get at the end of the Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend as you contemplate that you still have two more days off work.

• The moment you take off uncomfortable high-heeled shoes and walk on plush carpet.

• In a restaurant, when you have been so busy chatting with your friends you haven’t yet looked at the menu, and the waiter comes back to see if you are ready to order… for the third time.

• In the same restaurant, that panicky feeling you get when your friends start ordering their food and you still have no idea what you want.

What other experiences do you think need a great word to describe them?