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Tuesday, 31 May 2016

It's a couple of years old, and it's not so much a history of emotions but it's a fascinating read into the psychology of relationships, and it questions what our expectations are. I wonder if this study had been done 50, 100 and 150 years and even further back what it might have shown...

Masters of Love Science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.

Friday, 13 May 2016

I saw this and thought of my much neglected blog. Does my language lack variety in its expressions of happiness? A psychologist, Tim Lomas, has compiled a Glossary of Happiness, words that express joy.

The Glossary of Happiness

Quite possibly. Either way, there are some wonderful examples from elsewhere...

"It is a veritable catalogue of life’s many joys, featuring terms like utepils (Norwegian, “a beer that is enjoyed outside . . . particularly on the first hot day of the year”), mbuki-mvuki (Bantu, “to shed clothes to dance uninhibited”), tarab (Arabic, “musically induced ecstasy or enchantment”), and gigil (Tagalog, “the irresistible urge to pinch/squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished”). 

In the course of compiling his lexicon, Lomas has noted several interesting patterns. A handful of Northern European languages, for instance, have terms that describe a sort of existential coziness. The words—koselig (Norwegian), mysa (Swedish), hygge (Danish), and gezellig (Dutch)—convey both physical and emotional comfort. “Does that relate to the fact that the climate is colder up there and you would value the sense of being warm and secure and cozy inside?” Lomas asked. “Perhaps you can start to link culture to geography to climate. In contrast, more Southern European cultures have some words about being outside and strolling around and savoring the atmosphere. And those words”—like the French flâner and the Greek volta—“might be more likely to emerge in those cultures.”

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

An overdue picture of the old country...

I haven't published a pic of the old country for a while on here. Ok i haven't written either but I'll get to that. This is from a really good photographer called Anthony Brawley. This is looking south towards the mighty Ben Lomond, a hill I've climbed a few times.

Monday, 10 October 2011

tv hugs

Here's a great piece on the recent history of televisual emotions which have permeated wider society.

Adam Curtis is one of the BBC's finest film makers and if one ever gets a chance, take a look at 'Century of the Self'.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Han 한

I have often been fascinated by non western emotional states and how they can shine a light onto how humanity relates to its emotions. I think it demonstrates that emotions are not entirely innate but also reflections of the society we live in, and that knowing this we can change both ourselves and the society we live in.

Being a melancholic fool by nature, one that has taken my interest for a while is the Korean concept of Han (한). A complex intermingling of historical, collective and personal sorrow an acceptance of a bitter present and a hope of a better future. There are also some suggestions of resentment and a sense of unresolved vengeance.

It is sometimes described as both unique to and an essential component of Koreans' emotional lives.

A Korean colleague put it quite simply:

Han = a collective sense of bonding based on suffering and hardship

The bonding aspect here is important as it binds a people together, in a non-market based sense of identity. It is a collective feeling and i think an interesting bridge for us between the psychological interior of emotions inside our heads/hearts and the social aspect of emotions and responses to social situations.

The Korean poet Ko Eun described it thus:
"We Koreans were born from the womb of Han and brought up in the womb of Han."

Probably the most well known reference to it in Western culture is the episode of series 5 the West Wing entitled 'Han'. It describes the plight of a North Korean pianist who is asked not to defect (which he wanted to do) in order to preserve the hopes of nuclear non proliferation talks with the two countries.

President Bartlett (Martin Sheen) describes it thus:
"There is no literal English translation. It's a state of mind. Of soul, really. A sadness. A sadness so deep no tears will come. And yet still there's hope."{The West Wing: 5.4}

There is a good description from the Korean-English translator David Bannon:

"The term han cannot simply be translated as "resentment" for every book, article or poem. The phrasing must match the usage—a tricky thing with all words, especially so with a term that has vastly complex meaning to Koreans.

Han is frequently translated as sorrow, spite, rancor, regret, resentment or grief, among many other attempts to explain a concept that has no English equivalent. (Dong-A 1982: 1975). Han is an inherent characteristic of the Korean character and as such finds expression, implied or explicit, in nearly every aspect of Korean life and culture.

Han is sorrow caused by heavy suffering, injustice or persecution, a dull lingering ache in the soul. It is a blend of lifelong sorrow and resentment, neither more powerful than the other. Han is imbued with resignation, bitter acceptance and a grim determination to wait until vengeance can at last be achieved.

Han is passive. It yearns for vengeance, but does not seek it. Han is held close to the heart, hoping and patient but never aggressive. It becomes part of the blood and breath of a person. There is a sense of lamentation and even of reproach toward the destiny that led to such misery. (Ahn 1987)."n

Banno goes on to cite a good example from Korean literature:

"The inevitability of fate frequently fuels han in the arts. Korean television and films are informed by han, as are older forms of tragedy, such as P'ansori performance songs and folk tales. For example, poetess Yi Ok Bong (?-1592) described how she had visited her lover so often in dreams that if her spirit were corporeal, the pebbles on the path to his house would be worn to sand. (Kim 1990: 222). Yi uses the term han in the second line, which has been translated: "This wife's resentment is great." "Resentment" implies anger and frustration, certainly part of han, but the line fails to express the sorrow and resignation of the original. Another translator chose "I am sad" for the same line and still another, "my longing deepens." (Lee 1998: 85). This poem demonstrates the importance of context and usage. In the complete poem, insert each of the three previous translations at the end of the second line and the problem becomes clear:

Are you well these days? 

Moonlight brushing the curtain pains my heart.

If dreams leave footprints

the pebbles at your door are almost worn to sand. "

As a basic rule, however, one must always go beyond western interpretations of non-western concepts and listen to the creators of the concept itself, the Korean people. This is not to say David Bannon is wrong of course!

In 1994 in Paris, the late and hugely respected Korean writer Park Kyong-Ni (박경리) spoke in greater detail about Han and her comments challenge the notion of Han containing resentment.

    "If we lived in paradise, there would be no tears, no separation, no hunger, no waiting, no suffering, no oppression, no war, no death. We would no longer need either hope or despair. We would lose those hopes so dear to us all. We Koreans call these hopes Han. It is not an easy word to understand. It has generally been understood as a sort of resentment. But I think it means both sadness and hope at the same time. You can think of Han as the core of life, the pathway leading from birth to death. Literature, it seems to me, is an act of Han and a representation of it.

    'Han is a characteristic feeling of the Korean people. But it has come to be seen as a decadent feeling, because of the 36-year Japanese occupation. It is understood simply as sorrow, or resignation, or a sigh. Some have compared it to the Japanese word ourami, meaning hate or vengeance, but that s quite absurd. This nonsense is the result perhaps of the identity of the Chinese character or it may be a kind of left-over from the Japanese occupation. The Japanese word ourami evokes images of the sword and the seeds of militarism, and is a characteristic feeling of the Japanese, for whom vengeance is a virtue. Therefore the Japanese word ourami is completely different from the Korean word Han. As I have already said, Han is an expression of the complex feeling which embraces both sadness and hope. The sadness stems from the effort by which we accept the original contradiction facing all living things, and hope comes from the will to overcome the contradiction."

Is it unique to Korea? Possibly but not necessarily so. And Han has much to teach us about a response to suffering, not least if we appreciate Park Kyong-Ni's point about Han not being imbued with vengeance.

Can emotions like Han teach us how to break the cycles of violence in history?

Sunday, 26 June 2011

a longer history of emotions?

Sorry about the advert at the beginning, but this National Geographic video struck me as interesting. Is it showing one of our closely related relatives engaged in a sophisticated emotional response?

What can we infer from it, if the chimpanzees are truly grieving? There are obvious questions about how we behave towards such animals now, and they are very much worth considering. But I wonder also what it says about the nature and sophistication of emotions before language?

Monday, 21 February 2011

the anatomy of melancholy

A sign of our modern era? A story (admittedly a few months old) on the BBC website about the way we relate to depression. In times gone past we may not have been as swift to medicalise certain sensations rather we might have lived through them. This is given credibility by range of vocabulary we once employed to describe sadness. From melancholy to anomie and mal du pays, this range of words suggests both a more acute observation of such conditions that was more than clinical and was rooted in both a personal and social context. what would it say about one nation's mood that its exiles might be more inclined to the yearning for their homeland as described by mal du pays?

is this condition not one of the great common themes of both joyce's ulysses and the original odyssey?

We have learned much about the brain and about mental illness and where that has helped individuals it emphatically needs to be applauded. One cannot help but wonder though if our flawed notion of happiness as a default state creates a fear of unhapiness as a malady requiring remedy. Mary Kenny, the author of the piece, may well be right.

Saturday, 16 October 2010


In an occasional series of emotions that English does not have a specific translation for but has syntheses of recognisable emotions or may in some cases be arguably distinct. My own favourite is saudade....

These come from here.


Russian – Vladmir Nabokov describes it best: “No single word in English renders all the shades of toska. At its deepest and most painful, it is a sensation of great spiritual anguish, often without any specific cause. At less morbid levels it is a dull ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for, a sick pining, a vague restlessness, mental throes, yearning. In particular cases it may be the desire for somebody of something specific, nostalgia, love-sickness. At the lowest level it grades into ennui, boredom.”


Yagan (indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego) – “the wordless, yet meaningful look shared by two people who both desire to initiate something but are both reluctant to start” (


Czech – Milan Kundera, author of The Unbearable Lightness of Being, remarked that “As for the meaning of this word, I have looked in vain in other languages for an equivalent, though I find it difficult to imagine how anyone can understand the human soul without it.” The closest definition is a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery.


Japanese – “A mother who relentlessly pushes her children toward academic achievement” What mix of emotions is this?

Tartle (didn't know this one!)

Scottish – The act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name.


Tshiluba (Southwest Congo) – A word famous for its untranslatability, most professional translators pinpoint it as the stature of a person “who is ready to forgive and forget any first abuse, tolerate it the second time, but never forgive nor tolerate on the third offense.”

German – Translated literally, this word means “gate-closing panic,” but its contextual meaning refers to “the fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages.”
Japanese – Much has been written on this Japanese concept, but in a sentence, one might be able to understand it as “a way of living that focuses on finding beauty within the imperfections of life and accepting peacefully the natural cycle of growth and decay.”
French – The feeling that comes from not being in one’s home country.
Pascuense (Easter Island) – Hopefully this isn’t a word you’d need often: “the act of taking objects one desires from the house of a friend by gradually borrowing all of them.”
Danish – Its “literal” translation into English gives connotations of a warm, friendly, cozy demeanor, but it’s unlikely that these words truly capture the essence of a hyggelig; it’s likely something that must be experienced to be known. I think of good friends, cold beer, and a warm fire.
L’appel du vide
French – “The call of the void” is this French expression’s literal translation, but more significantly it’s used to describe the instinctive urge to jump from high places.
Arabic – Both morbid and beautiful at once, this incantatory word means “You bury me,” a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person because of how difficult it would be to live without them.
Spanish – While originally used to describe a mythical, spritelike entity that possesses humans and creates the feeling of awe of one’s surroundings in nature, its meaning has transitioned into referring to “the mysterious power that a work of art has to deeply move a person.” There’s actually a nightclub in the town of La Linea de la Concepcion, where I teach, named after this word.
Portuguese – One of the most beautiful of all words, translatable or not, this word “refers to the feeling of longing for something or someone that you love and which is lost.” Fado music, a type of mournful singing, relates to saudade.
I love the fact that the Brazillians apparently have an annual day of suadade, January 30. Can we imagine a day of love, or a day of yearning?

Friday, 17 September 2010

The anatomy of melancholy

the anatomy of melancholy

Why do we love a certain kind of sadness so much that we crave it so in our music, in our books, in so much of our society? This is something that we westerners are not alone in.

The erudite anthropologist and online Guardian columnist Wendy Fonarow writes of a classic piece of ethnography, The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers by Edward L. Schieffelin:

"Now a more overt manifestation of the value of melancholia can be found amongst the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea. In the Gisaro ceremony, recounted in The Sorrow of the Lonely and the Burning of the Dancers, visiting dancers and chorus perform songs designed to bring their hosts to tears. The chorus sings of the places on their host's land and eventually about the places where loved ones have died.

Upon the experience of intense sadness, the hosts become enraged and descend upon the dancers, grabbing lit torches to burn them to avenge the suffering and pain the hosts have been made to feel. As Schieffelin puts it, "It is the very beauty and sadness that he (the dancer) projects that cause people to burn him." Sadness, here, is not an inward experience of depression, it is the encounter of grief, nostalgia, and sorrow in a public spectacle that requires violent retribution."

This reminds me of those examples of love and other emotions that we ourselves used to play out external influences and not internal feelings. When love was a sweet sickness like a malady to be cured. When anger came upon one, rather than feeling it inside. Is there a benefit to internalising or externalising our emotions? Are externalised emotions more or less sophisticated? Does internalising them lead to excessive egotism and shape the emotions themselves? what do the examples of different emotional cultures and histories tell us there?

Friday, 25 June 2010


A curious tale from the BBC. Archaeological remains in England show a mass grave of around 97 new-born infants from a Roman building, believed to be a brothel. To modern ears a heartbreaking tale is heard, where lacking contraception Roman prostitutes practised infanticide on a widespread scale.

"Archaeological records suggest infants were not considered to be "full" human beings until about the age of two, said Dr Eyers [of Chiltern Archaeology].

Children any younger than that age were not buried in cemeteries. As a result, infant burials tended to be at domestic sites in the Roman era."

There is a brutal and tragic logic to this, painful as it is to comprehend. Indeed in many subsistence societies through history, infanticide is considered a necessary practice where deformities occur - a small community may not be able to provide adequate care without destroying the group itself.

Is the horror in modern emotions rooted in luxury and development rather than any sense of eternal morality? I would not go back to such dark practices but it takes a dispassionate eye to learn from the past.