One of the readers of my newsletter recently drew my attention to the unique Portuguese word ‘saudade’. It is a mood state of the soul in which various emotions are experienced, all of which can be traced back to their origin in love. Among those experiencing the feelings of joy and sadness simultaneously. This theme is one that’s often the subject of the music genre Fado.
In English, saudade is often translated with words like melancholy, homesickness and sadness. But these words can’t convey the true meaning of the word. A description that gives you some idea of this feeling might read something like this: ‘feelings of joy caused by a pleasurable memory of something that no longer exists, but combined with sadness that the period of joy has gone. It might be a memory of a place you once visited, or of a person or a period from the past’. Or, as the reader of the newsletter describes it in her mail: ‘A feeling of enormous heartbreak, and that you suddenly realise that the fact that you are able to feel the sadness is something special in itself. That special feeling can still make me feel so happy at such a moment.’ To experience what saudade might mean for you, listen to the wonderful guitar-playing of Per-Olov Kindgren.
Despite the fact that there’s no equivalent word for this mood state in English, we are all familiar with these simultaneous conflicting (or rather ‘complementary’?) feelings. It’s what you do with them that’s important. Do you have the courage to allow those feelings of joy and sadness into your heart? Or do you shut yourself off, totally or partially, and just try to feel only the joy?
In my work I meet people who choose – either consciously or subconsciously – to feel just the joy. I also talk to managers who, when confronted with sadness, quickly try to switch the conversation to the ‘positive’ side. That’s a shame! After all, by experiencing the sadness and exploring where this comes from, you can gain insight into essential values, wishes and/or dreams. And that’s how we develop and improve our strengths. Drew Barrymore has described this as follows: ‘In the end, some of your greatest pains become your greatest strengths.’
And there are so many other inspirational quotes about (not) expressing feelings and other emotions. Here are three I particularly like:
- Tears not cried tire us out. Anger not expressed tense us up (Riane Malfait). In other words, keeping our emotions locked up inside costs energy. And it’s very likely that when we finally express them, it will be in an explosive manner. Like an erupting volcano.
- What you resist, persists. What you look at disappears (Neale D. Walsch). Of course there are many types of strategies you can adopt to stop you from feeling anything. Emotional eating is one example. The other side of the coin is that you set a downward spiral in motion that becomes increasingly difficult to stop and reverse.
- It’s not the circumstances that make you unhappy, but your thoughts about them (Nin Sheng). Once your negative thinking process has been triggered, the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ is created. To break through this spiral it’s important to separate your thoughts and feelings from the event that is the real cause. Read the article ‘Feelings’ on this subject.
Back to the word saudade. As I said, we understand this to mean a mixture of conflicting feelings of joy and sadness when recalling places, people or experiences that exist only as memories. My challenge to you is related to this. Find a photo of yourself where you are somewhere between 4 and 6 years old. Now take 7 minutes to study the photo closely and to observe the thoughts and feelings that this evokes. Just observe, don’t judge. Where was the photo taken, what ‘type’ of child were you, which game did you enjoy playing most, what did you want to be when you grew up, who were the friends you played with, what was your favourite meal, etc. At the end of these 7 minutes, take your time to write down your thoughts and emotions. Then read through what you have written and ask yourself the following question: ‘Am I today the man or woman that I would have been inspired by as a child?’
Enjoy your contradictory feelings!