Precise Words for Emotions You Didn’t Even Know You Had
In recent years, neuroscience has introduced a new way of thinking about our emotions. The scientists behind the latest brain-imaging studies say they can now pinpoint with precision where these feelings are located within our heads. In 2013, for instance, a team of psychologists published a study in which they claimed that they had found neural correlates for nine very distinct human emotions: anger, disgust, envy, fear, happiness, lust, pride, sadness, and shame.
This is an intriguing trend for academics like Tiffany Watt Smith, a research fellow at the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London. “It’s this idea that what we mean by ‘emotion’ has evolved,” Smith tells Science of Us. “It’s now a physical thing — you can see a location of it in the brain.” And yet, of course, that’s not all an emotion is; calling the amygdala the “fear center” of the brain offers little help in understanding what it means to be afraid.
It’s exactly that — the subjective experience of emotions — that Smith explores in her charming new book, The Book of Human Emotions. It’s a roundup of 154 words from around the world that you could call an exploration of “emotional granularity,” as it provides language for some very specific emotions you likely never knew you had. “It’s a long-held idea that if you put a name to a feeling, it can help that feeling become less overwhelming,” she said. “All sorts of stuff that’s swirling around and feeling painful can start to feel a bit more manageable,” once you’ve pinned the feeling down and named it.
The odd thing about writing a book about discrete emotions you never knew existed is that you start to experience them — or is it that you were already experiencing them, and it’s just that now you know the name? Either way, Smith tells Science of Us that, while writing her book, she found herself batting away offers of help from others because she didn’t want to put them out. That is, she was feeling greng jai, a Thai term (that’s sometimes spelledkreng jai in translation) for “the feeling of being reluctant to accept another’s offer of help because of the bother it would cause them.”