In some ways The Book of Human Emotions is a remarkable book, managing to cover 154 different emotions into a very readable and entertaining 270 pages. Through short, witty and illuminating essays on each emotion, the author reveals some of the many stories behind each emotion, and although light on science this is a book that is rich in insights into the human condition. While this is an achievement in itself, what is most enjoyable about reading this book is the coverage of such a wide range of emotions. Tiffany Watt Smith does cover all the usual suspects in texts on emotions including Anger, Disgust, Fear, Hopefulness, Jealousy, Pride, Sadness, Surprise and many others. However she also manages to cover many other emotions from a range of cultures and languages, most of which I had never come across before, as well as some more modern items.
These non-English words give some very deep insights into specific cultures. From the ancient Sanskrit word Abhiman, a form of self-pride that expresses our feeling when some we love hurts us, to Zal which is a Polish word for a sense of melancholy at an irretrievable loss (the author uses the example of Frederic Chopin). I particularly like Amae (a Japanese word for the love that you can take for granted), the French feeling of being an outsider (Depaysement), Dolce far niente the phrase the Italians use to describe the pleasure of doing nothing, Gezelligheid which is the Dutch was of describing a snug and cozy feeling and Greng jai which is how the Thais feel when they are reluctant to accept help from another because of the inconvenience it will cause them. There are many more great words and phrases, but this should give you a flavour of the richness of the coverage in the book.
If you’re ever stuck for what to say, this book could be a great resource. It is very up-to-date too, including more modern idioms such as Ambiguphobia, the Collywobbles, Cyberchondria (the anxiety caused by researching an illness on the internet), Disgruntlement, the Heebie-Jeebies, (in a) Huff, (a bit) Miffed, Ringxiety, Road rage, Technostress, Umpty and a Warm glow. I’ll let you check the entries if you want to know more about any of these.
This is an entertaining book full of human and cultural insights and definitely adding to my own vocabulary of emotional words. Highly recommended.
The Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopaedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust by Tiffany Watt Smith