Archives for category: Literature

La Douleur Exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

A great post by Big Think today about 10 relationship words that the English language does not provide for… i.e. they’re not translateable into a similar English word.

Funny part is, if you are an English speaker reading this,  you will read the below words and likely know the emotions probably behind them very well, even though you haven’t got the exact words to express them.

There is a lot of debate in psychology about the importance of language and thought. Some argue that language determines thought (ie you can’t think of something if you don’t know its name). Others argue thought comes before language (ie you can feel something but not have the words to express it)… this article fits into that category whereby these concepts will be very familiar to you (as English speakers) but not registered in your vocab.

Your amygdala (the part of your brain that stores for emotional memory) and your Wernicke’s area (the part of your brain that comprehends language) should be buzzing as you read this… but your Broca’s area (the part that produces speech) might feel a bit left out…

Enjoy the list of words below courtesy of Pamela Haag on Big Think.

Mamihlapinatapei (Yagan, an indigenous language of Tierra del Fuego): The wordless yet meaningful look shared by two people who desire to initiate something, but are both reluctant to start. 

Oh yes, this is an exquisite word, compressing a thrilling and scary relationship moment. It’s that delicious, cusp-y moment of imminent seduction. Neither of you has mustered the courage to make a move, yet. Hands haven’t been placed on knees; you’ve not kissed. But you’ve both conveyed enough to know that it will happen soon… very soon. 

Yuanfen (Chinese): A relationship by fate or destiny. This is a complex concept. It draws on principles of predetermination in Chinese culture, which dictate relationships, encounters and affinities, mostly among lovers and friends.

From what I glean, in common usage yuanfen means the “binding force” that links two people together in any relationship. 

But interestingly, “fate” isn’t the same thing as “destiny.” Even if lovers are fated to find each other they may not end up together. The proverb, “have fate without destiny,” describes couples who meet, but who don’t stay together, for whatever reason. It’s interesting, to distinguish in love between the fated and the destined. Romantic comedies, of course, confound the two.

Cafuné (Brazilian Portuguese): The act of tenderly running your fingers through someone’s hair.

Retrouvailles (French):  The happiness of meeting again after a long time. 

This is such a basic concept, and so familiar to the growing ranks of commuter relationships, or to a relationship of lovers, who see each other only periodically for intense bursts of pleasure. I’m surprised we don’t have any equivalent word for this subset of relationship bliss. It’s a handy one for modern life.

Ilunga (Bantu): A person who is willing to forgive abuse the first time; tolerate it the second time, but never a third time.

Apparently, in 2004, this word won the award as the world’s most difficult to translate. Although at first, I thought it did have a clear phrase equivalent in English: It’s the “three strikes and you’re out” policy. But ilunga conveys a subtler concept, because the feelings are different with each “strike.” The word elegantly conveys the progression toward intolerance, and the different shades of emotion that we feel at each stop along the way.

Ilunga captures what I’ve described as the shade of gray complexity in marriages—Not abusive marriages, but marriages that involve infidelity, for example.  We’ve got tolerance, within reason, and we’ve got gradations of tolerance, and for different reasons. And then, we have our limit. The English language to describe this state of limits and tolerance flattens out the complexity into black and white, or binary code. You put up with it, or you don’t.  You “stick it out,” or not.

La Douleur Exquise (French): The heart-wrenching pain of wanting someone you can’t have.

When I came across this word I thought of “unrequited” love. It’s not quite the same, though. “Unrequited love” describes a relationship state, but not a state of mind. Unrequited love encompasses the lover who isn’t reciprocating, as well as the lover who desires. La douleur exquisegets at the emotional heartache, specifically, of being the one whose love is unreciprocated.

 Koi No Yokan (Japanese): The sense upon first meeting a person that the two of you are going to fall into love. 

This is different than “love at first sight,” since it implies that you might have a sense of imminent love, somewhere down the road, without yet feeling it. The term captures the intimation of inevitable love in the future, rather than the instant attraction implied by love at first sight.

Ya’aburnee (Arabic): “You bury me.” It’s a declaration of one’s hope that they’ll die before another person, because of how difficult it would be to live without them.

The online dictionary that lists this word calls it “morbid and beautiful.” It’s the “How Could I Live Without You?” slickly insincere cliché of dating, polished into a more earnest, poetic term.  

Forelsket: (Norwegian):  The euphoria you experience when you’re first falling in love.

This is a wonderful term for that blissful state, when all your senses are acute for the beloved, the pins and needles thrill of the novelty. There’s a phrase in English for this, but it’s clunky. It’s “New Relationship Energy,” or NRE.

Saudade (Portuguese): The feeling of longing for someone that you love and is lost. Another linguist describes it as a “vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist.”

It’s interesting that saudade accommodates in one word the haunting desire for a lost love, or for an imaginary, impossible, never-to-be-experienced love. Whether the object has been lost or will never exist, it feels the same to the seeker, and leaves her in the same place:  She has a desire with no future. Saudade doesn’t distinguish between a ghost, and a fantasy. Nor do our broken hearts, much of the time.

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‘Twlight’ by Stephanie Meyer. Not everyone’s cup of tea.

Interesting research has surfaced recently from University of Buffalo, suggesting that reading fiction increases your likelihood to feel empathy towards another person.

The study involved 140 undergraduate students who read Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’ and JK Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter and the Philsopher’s Stone’. The participatants were then asked questions designed to measure their identification with the books – including “How long could you go without sleep?”, “How sharp are your teeth?” and “Do you think, if you tried really hard, you might be able to make an object move just using the power of your mind?”.

The study found that participants who read the ‘Harry Potter’ chapters self-identified as wizards and participants who read the ‘Twilight’ chapter self-identified as vampires.

“It is the first empirical finding, so far as I know, to show a clear psychological effect of reading fiction,” says Keith Oatkey, a professor in the department of human development and applied psychology at the University of Toronto.

“It’s a result that shows that reading fiction improves understanding of others, and this has a very basic importance in society, not just in the general way making the world a better place by improving interpersonal understanding, but in specific areas such as politics, business, and education.”

Is that why we feel like we ‘take books on’ when we read them? Why the best-written stories stay in your mind long after you’ve put them down?

The feeling of community and escapism to another “fantasy” world when reading a good fiction very clearly has real, positive psychological effects.

Though be careful what you choose to read; ‘Twilight’, for example, has been voted the No.1 ‘Worst Book of All Time’ AND ‘Best Book of All Time’ on goodread.com. 

Read Alison Flood’s full story on The Guardian 

Psyche, revived by the kiss of Love. Antonio Canova, Italy, 1793

The word “psyche” has been used as far back as ancient Greece, by philopsophers such as Artistotle in his ‘Treatise On The Soul’.

The basic meaning of the Greek word ψυχή (psūchê) was “life”. Derived meanings included “spirit”, “ghost”, and ultimately “self”, “conscious personality”.

‘Metamorphoses’ (a.k.a. ‘The Golden Ass’) written by the 2nd century AD novelist and rhetorician, Apuleius, is an ancient Greek mythological story which includes the tale of “Cupid and Psyche” (or “Amour and Psyche”).

The story of Psyche, goddess of the soul, and Cupid (or Eros), god of love, revolves around the Cupid’s nasty mother Venus who, jealous of Psyche’s beauty, curses her to fall in love with a hideous beast. Cupid, sent to shoot the cursed arrow, instead, himself falls in love with her.

Furious, Venus places a curse on Psyche that keeps her from meeting a suitable husband, or any husband at that. As she does this, it upsets Cupid greatly, and he decides as long as the curse stays on Psyche, he will no longer shoot arrows, which will cause the temple of Venus to fall. After months of no one — man or animal — falling in love, marrying, or mating, the Earth starts to grow old, which causes concern to Venus, for nobody praises her for Cupid’s actions.

Finally, she agrees to listen to Cupid’s demands, allowing him one thing to have his own way. Cupid desires Psyche. Venus, upset, agrees to his demands only if he begins work immediately. He accepts the offer and takes off, shooting his golden arrows as fast as he can, restoring everything to the way it should be. People again fall in love and marry, animals far and wide mate, and the Earth begins to look young once again.

Though Cupid now visits Psyche every night, he demands she does not look at him in the light. But one night her wicked sisters trick her and she sees his face illuminated. Cupid flees.

In despair, Psyche searches the world for her lost love, and eventually begs Venus to help her find him. Venus sends Psyche into the Underworld to complete three seemingly impossible tasks, and she succeeds at these tasks with the help of some friends. The final of these tasks is to find a box containing beauty which Venus needs to replace her ailing looks.

Psyche retrieves this, however, she decides to open the box and take a little bit of the beauty for herself. Inside, she can see no beauty; instead an infernal sleep arises from the box and overcomes her. Cupid, who had forgiven Psyche, flies to her, wipes the sleep from her face, puts it back in the box, and sends her back on her way.

Then Cupid flies to Mount Olympus and begs Jupiter (Zeus) to aid them. Jupiter calls a full and formal council of the gods and declares that it is his will that Cupid marry Psyche. Jupiter then has Psyche fetched to Mount Olympus, and gives her a drink granting her immortality. Begrudgingly, Venus and Psyche forgive each other.

Finally, Cupid and Psyche are permitted to be together forever and they have a daughter named Hedone (Pleasure).

So… the soul + the heart = pleasure.

Nicely put, Apuleius.

My first class at The School Of Life in Bloomsbury, London, explored ‘The Art of Conversation’.

Presenter John Paul Flintoff, columnist for the Sunday Times, delved into the history of conversation and discovered Irish novelist Johnathan Swift was in fact shy as a mouse and hated conversation. However, he was determined to have a good one, so he persevered…
If a man of his verbosity was felt like he had nothing great worth saying to people, then surely there’s hope for us all.

It’s been proven that conversation is a currenecy as important as money; psychological studies have shown that those who have deeper conversations rate themselves as happier than those who regard their conversations as largely superficial.

So here are six ways to have better conversations, courtesy of Mr Flintoff and The School of Life.

Six ways to have better conversations:

1/ Have curiosity about strangers – everyone is different but similar to you. Find out how much so.

2/ Take off your mask – everyone has one. See what changes when you make space for others to do the same.

3/ Empathy + lack of assumptions – we all know how to be kind but we forget. We also tend to box each other before we know them from a bar of soap. Remember your kindness (and how much you dislike being labelled), and you’ll find you have more connections with people.

4/ Get behind the job title – we are all more than our current job title. NEVER ask what people do! The curiosity might kill you for the entire length of the conversation, but it’s much more fun.

5/ Adventurous openings – try to avoid the formulaic. Ultimately people will thank you for it. We had some interesting ideas come up which revolved around asking people ‘the craziest things they’d ever done’ and ‘what is your biggest secret’. But if you think that’s off your richter scale of comfort, just aim to ask something about people’s appearance eg ‘where did you get your shoes’. People love that shit.

6/ Courage – it’s scary striking up conversations with strangers. After all, we’ve all been told not to do that from a young age. But with a spirit of adventure, great conversation can pull you apart, refresh you and make way for a new you. Don’t be shy…
Thanks to The School of Life and John Paul Flintoff for a wonderful evening. Book in, if you can, for more classes at www.theschooloflife.com.

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