9 Feelings We All Understand But Don’t Have a Word for in English

As curated by the highly emotionally intelligent team at The School of Life.


You know that tender sensation, subtle moment in time or quintessentially human interaction that seems to transcend the English language for description? Well, another language may already have the semantic answer for us.

Having a word – even a foreign one – for these moments and experiences offers a warm assurance that they’re an experience shared by many.

Our friends at The School of Life have done a wonderful job of collating 20 of the best and most beautiful turns of phrase from around the world in their latest set of cards.

Here are nine of our favourite:

1. Fika (Swedish)
A traditional break from work usually involving a drink of coffee or tea. In Swedish offices, you are strongly expected to make time for fika, no matter how busy you are. You should not discuss business matters, but chat pleasantly with your colleagues and get to know those above and below you in the official pecking order. It’s democracy and community in a beverage.

*Also a lovely café in Manly, NSW.

2. Mokita (Kivila, of the Trobriand Islands)
A painful fact everyone is aware of, but which, out of compassion, no-one mentions (perhaps someone has been unfaithful, or is bankrupt or has lost their job). The ability of a group to manage mokita is deeply admired.

Commonly known in English as ‘the giant elephant in the room.’

3. Mamihlapinatapei (Yagán, of Tierra del Fuego)
A meaningful look exchanged between two people who want to kiss but are both worried about about being rebuffed.

The foundation of all classic rom-com tension. 

4. Age-otori (Japanese)
The feeling of looking worse after a haircut. Captures how hard it is for our plans to come off well.

Who else can relate to that time your hairdresser went a bit too wild with the bleach, scissors or perming lotion and you wanted to hide for weeks?

5. Ataraxia (Ancient Greek)
A state of calm that all Stoic philosophers aspired to. It’s a lack of agitation that comes from understanding the ways of the universe, accepting fate, knowing what one can control and therefore focusing only on the things one can actually change. Very useful when the taxi is late.

Ommmmm…we’d all like to channel more of this please. 

6. Wabi-Sabi (Japanese)
The quality of being attractive because of being imperfect in some way. Instead of getting annoyed and upset by imperfections, which are experienced as spoiling something, wabi-sabi’ suggests that we should see the flaw itself as being part of what is charming. Can apply to pots, furniture, houses – and whole lives.

Attention all chronic perfectionists, take note!

7. Eudaimonia (Ancient Greek)
Often translated as ‘happiness’, it really means the deepest kind of fulfillment, often comprising a flourishing work and love life. It’s accepted that eudaimonia can go hand in hand with lots of day-to-day frustration and pain. You could be correctly described as possessing ‘eudaimonia’ even though you were periodically really rather grumpy.

We like this realistic kind of ‘background happiness’.

8. Querencia (Spanish)
Describes a place where we feel safe, a ‘home’ (which doesn’t literally have to be where we live) from which we draw our strength and inspiration. In bullfighting, a bull may stake out a ‘querencia’ in a part of the ring where he will gather his energies before another charge.

Hello beach, mountain top and coffee cup!

9. Torschlusspanik (German)
Literally: Gate-closing-panic. The anxious, claustrophobic feeling that opportunities and options are shutting down; you have missed the boat, you have to get a grip, you are getting too old.

Remember: There is always another boat. 


Definitions taken from theschooloflife.com

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