Despite having had the benefit of human history to develop language, we are shockingly bad at descriptions. As one might imagine, there’s no nuance in generality; and, as a result, we as people do each other the disservice of denying complexity. When someone asks you how your day is, I imagine you lean towards “good” or “okay” as a response more often than not. While fine responses in themselves, they lack the same level of accuracy as someone telling you Phoenix is “hot” come summertime—it’s a shade of the truth. I think it’s safe to assume that we all agree that being a human is a hyper-complex experience. We know that emotions are not black or white, but instead a sweet symphony of gray. That being said, why do we insist on settling for anything less than specificity?
Emotions are rivers of ephemerality that shift the silt in their beds, thereby changing course a million times a minute. Meaning that emotions are more than just complex: they often defy definition. Given that fact, how should we honor our emotions? Or rather, how can we? It’s a heavy concept, awkward, impossible to hold wholly. It is in this awkward exploration that our story begins.
Months ago, maybe when it first started to get cold, Brennan introduced me to Tim Lomas’s The Positive Lexicography Project (which won’t render on mobile) with the intention of planning a dinner series around a handful of words that would help us explore emotional granularity (i.e. the specificity of feelings). Emily Anthes talks about how the project got started in her article “The Glossary of Happiness”, should you be interested; but the lexicography in itself is an “evolving index of ‘untranslatable’ words related to wellbeing from across the world’s languages.” The lexicography currently pulls from a few dozen languages that look at themes like love, decency, hope, soul, ambivalence, and bliss. Needless to say, I was all in.
Brennan and I spent the better part of two hours looking through the catalog and found words that touched at feelings I’ve long had but never had the vocabulary to describe. Let’s look at the German word “weltzschmerz”, which sort of means world-weariness and existential sadness. Haven’t we all felt that at one time or another? I know I have. After finding that word and realizing that enough people felt this emotion so strongly that they made up a descriptor for the feeling, I felt a little less alone.
The world we live in is one in which we cry out for emotional wellness but don’t actually know how to achieve it. I’ve gone to so many events in the last few months where I’ve met people who have confessed a desire for emotional intimacy, but no one can tell me what they mean. I met a woman recently who lamented her lack of friends and deep emotional bonds. She told me that she wanted someone “to be around”, which struck me as an odd choice of words. When I asked her what the difference between friendship and companionship was, she didn’t have an answer. No one had an answer.
I want to have an answer—if not the answer, then at least some grappling attempt at one. I want to explore difficult questions like “What is love to you?” in a room full of friends and strangers, allowing myself the opportunity to be vulnerable enough with others to eke out what it means to be alive. Does it look pretentious written out like that? Absolutely. Regardless, I feel like this is the time in my life where I finally have enough experience to relate to a whole host of human emotions, in addition to a high level of emotional literacy that will allow me to convey my feelings while connecting to those of others.
Eat Your Feelings is an exploration of emotional granularity through non-English words that don’t have an immediate translation. With the use of food, prompts, and an ever-changing group dynamic, Brennan and I hope to host some unforgettable parties that give to others as much as they are sure to give us. Of the hundreds of words listed in the lexicography, we selected about a dozen. Of that dozen we chose six that we thought we could get the most out of over the course of the series. In 2020, we will explore words with Scottish, Russian, Hawaiian, French, Japanese, and Arabic roots. With any luck, we’ll learn something about ourselves, connect with others in meaningful ways, and continue to not burn the House down.