Is there such a thing as mixed emotions, or is there only no such thing as the experience of a single emotion? Can you think of any time in your life when you only felt happy, or sad, or angry? These emotion are rarely, if ever, experienced on their own. Our emotions are so complex that one could argue they are the essence of what makes us human.
Recently I’ve been playing Bloodborne on Playstation 4, and I was struck by a particular scene in which you give a doll (who has come to life, looks like a human and is human size) a hair ornament. She responds with the following dialogue: “I-I can’t remember, not a thing, only… I feel… a yearning… something I’ve never felt before… What’s happening to me? Ahh… Tell me hunter, could this be joy?”
I was baffled by the beauty of these words when the doll first spoke them. Imagine you are a being, void of emotions, feeling joy for the first time. The doll was crying, and she describes a yearning. Even when we consider true joy it is often accompanied by tears, leading me to believe that emotions are not as defined as their descriptors make them out to be.
This fact becomes more evident when we acknowledge the emotions that exist in other languages, for which we have no word in English. Schadenfreude is a German emotion that describes pleasure that derives from someone else’s pain. Tocka in Russian is an ache of the soul, a longing with nothing to long for. When we apply a word, a label, to something it materializes in our consciousness within the boundaries we set for it by creating the word. But do we lose sight of its essence when we do this? You can say you are happy when somebody buys you lunch, but you can also say you are happy when you hold your child for the first time. The two are not the same. Happy is an illusion. It is our attempt to explain our profound human experience that we are fumbling through on a daily basis like a three year old in a china shop.
There are several theories about how many emotions exist, with the largest list being 32, in English (as shown in the image above). At every moment in our lives we are experiencing emotions. There are 86,400 seconds in a day. There is no way we can narrow down the human experience into 32 categories. I think what we should take from this is to accept our emotions as they are, when they come. It is so easy to tell ourselves: “I shouldn’t be feeling this way” or “I should be feeling this way”, and we label it with happy or sad or whatever else. For instance, you and your friend both went for the same job interview and your friend got the job instead of you, and you think “oh but I should be happy for them, I shouldn’t be sad at all”. And the truth is you are happy, and you are sad, and you are actually feeling a mix of emotions that English has no name for, and that is okay. We’ve created these labels for our experiences, and assigned them to situations in which we think we should feel a certain way, but the truth is the labels are merely a magnifying glass, giving us a close up image of an inch of a 6’x6′ masterpiece work of art. We can try to make sense of our emotions by assigning labels to them and saying “okay this piece fits here, and this piece goes here”, or we can forget the labels and close our eyes for a second and feel, whatever it is we are feeling, in its truest, purest form.
Image: “Plutchik-wheel” by Machine Elf 1735 – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Plutchik-wheel.svg#/media/File:Plutchik-wheel.svg