Written by Rachael Cheeseman
I’m British, so dealing with anything emotional is pretty much on a par with having wisdom teeth pulled without anaesthetic. In Britain, a tut is the height of indignation and nodding at someone in the street qualifies as graphic PDA. In fact, I believe the only thing it’s acceptable to show any real passion for is the order in which you put jam and cream on a scone (It’s cream first and I will fight anyone who says different). So, you can imagine that most of us are barely comfortable dealing with the basic range of emotions: happy, sad, angry, scared etc. let alone the more abstract ones such as loneliness or hopefulness or that weird feeling when you suddenly realise how quickly time is passing and you have a brief existential crisis about your own mortality. You know, just everyday normal stuff. Therefore you can only imagine my horror at discovering that there’s an entire array of peculiar, specific, and downright weird emotional states that we have probably all experienced at one time or another, but had no idea there was a word for what we were feeling. Well, there is. And it makes the world of emotions an even more frightening and treacherous place. So for those of you who, like me, have an emotionally stunted disposition, please proceed with caution.
Imagine, if you will, that you are walking down the street. You’re minding your own business, maybe listening to some – enter name of current, popular singer here – and generally just keeping to yourself. Then, in the distance, you see another person walking towards you. They are similarly attempting to do everything they can to shut out any threat of contact with the outside world: hood up, headphones in, eyes fixed firmly on the ground. You try to stare at the ground too but for some reason your gaze keeps flickering up to the approaching figure as they draw closer and closer until the inevitable. Their gaze flickers up too. You made eye contact. You both rush to stare at literally anything else, it would be better to accidentally walk out into oncoming traffic than to get drawn back into eye contact with this random passer-by. But it doesn’t matter how stringently you avoid one another after the fact; the damage has been done.
For that one, seemingly never ending, moment you looked into one another’s eyes and your souls were laid bare. Or at least that’s how it felt. You weren’t just making eye contact, you were seeing each other with perfect clarity. You feel like they could have read all your hopes and dreams and fears in that one gaze and it leaves you feeling shaken and vulnerable. You all know the sensation, as vague and undefinable as it may have felt at the time. What I bet you didn’t know is that this feeling has a name. It is called Opia and is defined as: the ambiguous intensity of looking someone in the eye, which can feel simultaneously invasive and vulnerable.
Now this is one that I’m sure almost everyone has felt. Potentially multiple times. I get this feeling on a regular basis. Have you ever been in a second hand bookshop? Wall to wall books of all genres and ages, stacked higgledy-piggledy anywhere and everywhere there is a spare inch of space. You smell that amazing “old book” smell that is one of dust and leather and paper and somehow seems to convey years and years of experience and knowledge. You’re hit with that wonderment that so many lives and stories and dreams are all there, in one place, just waiting to be discovered. And then you’re hit with that horrible realisation that you’ll never be able to read them all, that some of these stories will never be told, and some of these lives will be forgotten and fade into obscurity. It’s an unsettling kind of melancholy, almost like sorrow mixed with that strange feeling of being small in the bigger scheme of history. So many stories, just waiting. This is the feeling of vellichor. It is eloquently defined by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as:
the strange wistfulness of used bookstores, which are somehow infused with the passage of time—filled with thousands of old books you’ll never have time to read, each of which is itself locked in its own era, bound and dated and papered over like an old room the author abandoned years ago, a hidden annex littered with thoughts left just as they were on the day they were captured.
Here’s one that I’m certain applies to each and every one of us right now. Kuebiko is a Japanese word that has been appropriated into the English language to mean a state of exhaustion or fatigue inspired by acts of senseless violence. Sound familiar? There is so much violence around us right now: the constant threat of war, civil unrest, acts of terrorism, and the worst thing is sometimes you don’t possess the energy to feel outraged or appalled at these goings on. Instead you feel this sort of apathy. There is so much violence, it’s coming at you from all sides and you feel disappointed in humanity and a hopelessness for the future that drains the life from you. It’s just exhausting.
The Japanese origin of this word actually refers to a Shinto deity of knowledge and agriculture also known as The Crumbling Prince. He was depicted as a scarecrow who could not move but had a comprehensive awareness of the world around him. He would watch all the ugliness of the world and know everything that went on but couldn’t do a thing to stop it.
I don’t know about you, but I think there is something quite haunting about that.
Alright, you’ve probably heard of this one. Schadenfreude is not the obscure reference it once was and has recently fallen into fairly common usage. However what exactly this feeling reveals about us and our emotional state may still be a mystery to you. For those of you who don’t know, schadenfreude is the feeling of experiencing happiness at the misfortune of others. It’s that sly smile when you hear your work colleague getting a bollocking from the boss, or that little snort of laughter when the girl in the ridiculous sky scraper heels falls over. Do these moments make you a bad person? No, not at all. You are simply experiencing schadenfreude. However, if you experience this glee for other people’s hardships often, it could mean that you yourself have low self-esteem and feel easily threatened by other people. A study conducted by Leiden University in the Netherlands found that students who were assessed as having low self-esteem and who felt threatened by a certain individual were more likely to experience schadenfreude at that individual’s misfortune. They theorised that schadenfreude serves the purpose of making us feel better about ourselves. So you might want to think twice next time you want to laugh at the distracted kid that walks face first into a door, you never know what insecurities you might be revealing about yourself.
5. Koi No Yokan
Yet another beautiful offering from the Japanese language. Koi No Yokan is used to describe a sensation you get upon meeting someone for the first time and feeling like the two of you are going to fall in love. This has so much more depth to it than the clichéd, “love at first sight” because it is not implying that you can fall in love instantly or with someone you don’t even know. It might better be described as that awareness of the chemistry you sometimes feel with certain people. When, right from the first meeting, the air is thick with possibilities and once the meeting is over you can’t stop yourself picturing hundreds of promising scenarios and a future with that person, no matter how ludicrous you tell yourself it might be. It’s a deeper sensation than attraction and one of those moments in life that has you questioning whether there isn’t some kind of cosmic plan laid out for us all, guiding us through. Even if nothing comes of the feeling and the two of you don’t fall hopelessly in love, there are few feelings out there as startling or profound as the feeling that you may have just encountered the person you could spend the rest of your life with.
Emotions really are a tricky business. They’re complicated and messy and encroach on almost every aspect of human interaction. Having said that, I like that we are always trying to puzzle out what this feeling is, or why that feeling happens, or if anyone else ever feels such and such a way. It means we’re always trying to learn more about ourselves and trying to connect with other people. I suppose that can never really be a bad thing.