12 new-age emojis to express a coronacoaster of emotions
For something that is only experienced internally, feelings are still a shared experience — and one that's sometimes easiest to express with emojis, writes Jessica Brodie
The first time it happened to me was when I heard the word hiraeth. A Welsh word for a type of homesickness, it describes the longing for a place that no longer exists, or for visiting a much-loved place from your past.
It's one of those untranslatable feelings from another culture and it illuminated my internal landscape perfectly, encapsulating all the things that were melancholy and glorious about moving out of home in my 20s.
My parents had also moved away, and I'd often experience a profound longing for the sound of tyres crunching on gravel, heralding my mom's return to the house.
In these times, it's easy to feel hiraeth for the time before the coronavirus. When you are sipping a hot toddy made with Bacardi rum and wincing while also saying "this quarantini isn't so bad", it is easy to long for the time when you could buy any alcohol you wanted at any time, Fridays, Saturdays and, yes, even Sundays.
Fomo, coined by marketing strategist Dan Herman in the early 2000s, is arguably the ailment of our cultural moment, especially now that what we're allowed to experience is so curtailed. One of my deepest joys is that I am immune to it.
It's a concept that doesn't affect me, or it affects me only in that I experience its opposite. While my contemporaries are afflicted with fomo's heady mix, I'm on the other end of the spectrum. Blithely flaking on plans and instead curled up at home experiencing jomo. The joy of missing out.
All around my contemporaries are longing for a lightening of social restrictions, but, aside from missing my family, I believe I would be quite happy to have to be predominantly house-bound indefinitely. I seem to be built for lockdown. My social anxiety has never been lower.
"I know the feeling" is such a powerful phrase. Feelings are such visceral, subjective experience. An internal illumination set off by a combination of physiological response and cognitive programming. Depending on the trigger the resulting paroxysm can be intensely pleasant, or completely destabilising.
Yet, for something that appears to be completely self-made and only experienced internally, emotions are still a shared experience. Though they are ours alone, they are the same for everyone, actually.
But for something so visceral, the theory of feelings is frustratingly vague.
There are two well-defined aspects, the first being each human experiences the same basic feelings. Defining and understanding them is something humans have been trying to do since the time of Confucius.
"Emotion theory" is led today by Paul Ekman, the renowned psychologist. He named the six basic emotions: happiness, sadness, anger, disgust, fear and surprise. Working with the Dalai Lama, Ekman recently produced the superb Atlas of Emotions, an online tool that presents the basic feelings as an interactive resource.
The premise of the atlas is that the universal emotions are common to all people, irrespective of their experiences, gender, socioeconomic background or time and place in history.
Representing moving, overlapping islands, the atlas reflects the fluid nature of emotions and mimics the way their strength and frequency vary from moment to moment. Within each continent of emotion, Ekman has expanded on the range of feelings, bringing the number of universally recognised emotions to 27.
Some of the feelings are expected. Enjoyment predictably includes ecstasy or joy, but there are a few delicious untranslatable ones, too. Few would deny having indulged in Schadenfreude, a German word for the feeling of enjoying the downfall or misfortune of others.
The source of the pleasure (which in polite circles we're supposed to find shameful) is actually relief rather than nastiness: that another person has been revealed to be much like ourselves - inadequate and unfortunate.
Fiero also makes an appearance. It's the Italian word for the deep, fiery pleasure of triumphantly meeting an excessively difficult challenge.
What's most interesting is where the emotions overlap to create more complex experiences. Schadenfreude is most clearly enjoyment overlaid with disgust, while fiero is a powerful mix of enjoyment and anger.
This more robust lexicon for feelings also measures how we feel on an axis of intensity. Within fear there are eight more complex feelings, ranging from trepidation as the least intense to terror, the most severe.
In mapping feelings this way the hope is that our emotional vocabulary will be broadened, as our understanding of our feelings becomes more nuanced.
To see it in action, the theory is remarkably well presented in Pixar's glorious 2015 animated film Inside Out. Beginning in the Plato's cave of the unformed self, the protagonist, Riley, a little girl, slowly develops the core emotions of joy, anger, sadness, fear and disgust, all of which are presented as opinionated characters.
The entire movie takes place in Riley's head. It's a truly psychedelic exploration of Ekman, Plato, and even the very adult theme of Robert Plutchik's theory of the importance of sorrow as a mental function. If you're into this stuff, it's a marvel.
So, how are we feeling today? While the core theory of emotions is mostly uncontested, what's not clear is how many variations and nuances they can produce. If all our feelings are constructed in our heads, then we can also de- and re-construct them to reflect our experiences.
Sometimes words just don't cut it. These emojis sum up new experiences and emotions we've had since the Covid-19 pandemic began:
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