We tend to think of emotions as simple, hard-wired responses. You see a hungry lion, you feel fear. You smell a pile of rotting garbage, you feel disgust. But according to fascinating new science, emotions are actually much more complicated than that.
Sure, physical responses like a pounding heart or a wrinkled nose are a big part of emotions. But so are the words your language provides you for your feelings, as well as your cultural beliefs about what different sensations mean and what emotions are expected in certain situations.
This isn't just some abstract academic point. Understanding how the words and beliefs we have available to us influence our emotions helps us pick more precise language for our feelings, which in turn helps us understand them better and respond to them in healthier, more constructive ways. In short, thinking about the language and history of emotions improves your EQ.
The bigger your emotional vocabulary, the higher your EQ.
So how do you get smarter about the language of emotions in order to get smarter about emotions themselves? One simple way is to watch the fascinating TED Talk below by British historian Tiffany Watt Smith.
It's packed with fascinating anecdotes about how emotions have changed over the centuries (Did you know people used to literally die from nostalgia? Or that in the 16th century self-help books recommended more sadness?), but it also does a great job of explaining why a richer emotional vocabulary leads to great emotional intelligence.
"Most people who tell us to pay attention to our well beings talk of the importance of naming our emotions, but these names aren't neutral labels," Watt Smith says. "They are freighted with our culture's values and expectations."
"Learning new and unusual words for emotions will help attune us to the more finely grained aspects of our inner lives. But more than this, I think these words are worth caring about because they remind us how powerful the connection is between what we think and how we end up feelings," she continues.
In short, learning foreign terms for emotions isn't just fun for word nerds (though it totally is that), it also raises your EQ. So in that spirit, here are some of the most fascinating, rounded up by University of East London psychology professor Tim Lomas, who has compiled a massive list of 'untranslatable emotions':
S'apprivoiser (French): literally 'to tame', but a mutual process - both sides slowly learning to trust the other and eventually accepting each other.
Aware (Japanese): the bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty.
Dadirri (Australian Aboriginal): a deep, spiritual act of reflective and respectful listening.
Feierabend (German): festive mood at the end of a working day.
Fernweh (German): the 'call of faraway places,' homesickness for the unknown.
Kintsugi (Japanese): literally, 'golden joinery' (the art of repairing broken pottery using gold), metaphorically meaning to render our flaws and fault-lines beautiful and strong.
Koi no yokan (Japanese): the feeling on meeting someone that falling in love will be inevitable.
Kvell (Yiddish): to feel pride and joy in someone else's accomplishment.
Mbuki-mvuki (Bantu): to shed clothes to dance uninhibited.
On (Japanese): a feeling of moral indebtedness, relating to a favor or blessing given by others.
Orenda (Huron): the power of the human will to change the world in the face of powerful forces such as fate.
Pihentagyu (Hungarian): 'with a relaxed brain,' being quick-witted and sharp.
Shemomechama (Georgian): eating past the point of satiety due to sheer enjoyment.
Shinrin-yoku (Japanese): the relaxation gained from bathing in the forest, figuratively or literally
Sisu (Finnish): extraordinary determination in the face of adversity.
Sukha (Sanskrit): genuine lasting happiness independent of circumstances
Tîeow (Thai): to roam around in a carefree way.
Tyvsmake (Norwegian): to taste or eat small pieces of the food when you think nobody is watching, especially when cooking.
Ubuntu (Nguni Bantu): being kind to others on account of one's common humanity.
Yuan bei (Chinese): a sense of complete and perfect accomplishment
Can't get enough of these foreign words for feelings? There are lots more on Lomas's website.