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Although wellbeing tends to be associated with positive affect, theorists have suggested it might also involve more ambivalent emotions. Scholars have further argued that although such emotions are somewhat overlooked in Western societies, other cultures are more attuned to them. In the interest of exploring the value of ambivalent emotions, an enquiry was conducted into relevant concepts found across the world’s cultures, focusing specifically on so-called untranslatable words. Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey literature, together with conceptual snowballing, 30 relevant terms were located. A process of grounded theory analysis identified five main themes: hope, longing, pathos, appreciation of imperfection, and sensitivity to mystery. The analysis highlights the need for a more expansive conception of wellbeing, going beyond an exclusive identification with positively valenced emotions to incorporate more complex and ambivalent processes.
Ambivalent emotions:
A cross-cultural conceptual review of their relevance to wellbeing
Qualitative Research in Psychology
Dr. Tim Lomas
School of Psychology, University of East London, Arthur Edwards Building,
Water Lane, London, E15 4LZ, United Kingdom
Note: This draft may not exactly replicate the final published version. It is not the copy of record.
Although wellbeing tends to be associated with positive affect, theorists have suggested it
might also involve more ambivalent emotions. Scholars have further argued that although
such emotions are somewhat overlooked in Western societies, other cultures are more attuned
to them. In the interest of exploring the value of ambivalent emotions, an enquiry was
conducted into relevant concepts found across the world’s cultures, focusing specifically on
so-called untranslatable words. Through a quasi-systematic search of academic and grey
literature, together with conceptual snowballing, 30 relevant terms were located. A process of
grounded theory analysis identified five main themes: hope; longing; pathos; appreciation of
imperfection; and sensitivity to mystery. The analysis highlights the need for a more
expansive conception of wellbeing, going beyond an exclusive identification with positively-
valenced emotions to incorporate more complex and ambivalent processes.
Keywords: ambivalent emotion; wellbeing; cross-cultural; language.
Ambivalent emotions: A cross-cultural enquiry into their relevance to wellbeing
Conceptualising Emotions
Wellbeing tends to be operationalised in multidimensional terms, incorporating numerous
ways in which a person might hope to do or be well (de Chavez et al., 2005). These ways
include: physical health (Larson, 1999); social relationships (Bourdieu, 1986); cognitive
performance (Tang et al., 2007); and positive affect (Diener, 2000). For instance, Pollard and
Davidson (2001, p.10) define wellbeing as ‘a state of successful performance across the life
course integrating physical, cognitive and social-emotional function.’ Thus, a central
component of wellbeing is an affective dimension, i.e., emotions and feelings
In the literature, psychologists tend to focus more on emotions than feelings. Broadly
speaking, there are two main perspectives on emotions: naturalistic and constructionist
(Boiger & Mesquita, 2012). Naturalistic models conceptualise emotions in an essentialist way
as natural kinds, i.e., relatively universal affective responses. Within this broad perspective
are two key models. Russell’s (1980) circumplex model posits that affective states are
generated through the interaction of two independent neurophysiological systems: valence,
i.e., pleasant-unpleasant; and arousal, i.e., active-passive. Conversely, Ekman’s (1999)
Damasio (2001, p.781) defines an emotion as ‘a patterned collection of chemical and neural responses that is
produced by the brain when it detects the presence of an emotionally competent stimulus,’ and feelings as ‘the
mental representation of the physiological changes that characterize emotions.’ Damasio further suggests that
whereas emotions are ‘scientifically public,i.e., visible physiologically, feelings are private, inner subjective
experiences. Both phenomena are of interest here. However, in addition to these prescriptive definitions i.e.,
how terms are deployed in scientific theory this paper is also concerned with descriptive definitions, i.e., how
such terms are used in everyday life (Widen & Russell, 2010). As such, the paper also focuses on qualia more
broadly what wellbeing feels like as reflected in Jackson’s (1982, p.127) allusion to the ‘experience of
tasting a lemon, smelling a rose, hearing a loud noise or seeing the sky.’
paradigm of basic emotions proposes five such emotions: anger; disgust; fear; sadness; and
enjoyment. These five differ in terms of such factors as antecedent events, appraisal, and
probable behavioural responses, and moreover are regarded as being subserved by a ‘discrete
and independent neural system’ (Posner, Russell, & Peterson, 2005, p. 715). This theory has
been supported by extensive cross-cultural research which suggests that these five may, to
some extent, be universally experienced and recognised (Ekman, 2016). That said, it has also
been widely critiqued and challenged, both theoretically (e.g., Ortony & Turner, 1990) and
empirically (e.g., Gendron, Roberson, van der Vyver, & Barrett, 2014).
Standing in contrast to these naturalistic models are constructionist
theories. Rather
than emotions being inner states that are universally available, they are conceived as a
product of the complex dynamics of social interaction, and of the broader cultural context in
which this interaction occurs (Kövecses, 2003). A pioneer here is Harré (1986, p.5), who saw
emotions as subsisting mainly ‘in the reciprocal exchanges of a social encounter. Since such
encounters are primarily discursive, he regarded emotions as primarily a linguistic
construction. From this perspective, given linguistic differences across cultures a point that
shall be explored below there is great cross-cultural variation in how emotions are
Such theories are also sometimes referred to as constructivist. However, although constructionism and
constructivism are often used synonymously, they are subtly different traditions. Constructionism is more
socially-focused, being primarily concerned with how knowledge is produced by ‘social practices and
institutions, or… the interactions and negotiations between relevant social groups (Gasper, 1999, p.855). By
contrast, constructivism is more psychologically- and individually-focused, being primarily concerned with the
way that individuals mentally construct the world of experience through cognitive processes’ (Young & Collin,
2004, p.375). To an extent, the current paper straddles both traditions, since in addition to its concern with how
different cultures have conceptualised subjective experience, there is also an interest in the way that these
conceptualisations might impact upon people’s cognitive processes. However, to avoid confusion, the label
constructionism will be used throughout.
experienced, interpreted and understood. This form of strong cultural determinism has been
advocated by anthropologists such as Lutz (2011).
Finally, between the naturalistic and constructionist perspectives is a middle ground,
featuring theories that incorporate elements of both positions. Such theories allow for the
possibility of universals in human experiences, but also recognise that these universals may
be shaped by socio-cultural contexts in various ways. Indeed, this is the stance taken in the
present paper. For instance, Feldman Barrett’s (2006) conceptual-act model proposes that
discrete emotions emerge from a conceptual analysis of a ‘momentary state of core affect’
(p.49). The concept of core affect arguably aligns with the naturalistic theories above, being a
state of affective arousal as per the circumplex model or a basic emotion, as per Ekman.
However, the ‘ebb and flow of core affect’ is then filtered through a person’s linguistic-
conceptual schemas and thus interpreted as a specific emotion. As such, her theory
accommodates the kind of cultural mediation of experiences argued for in constructionist
models. Similarly, Matsumoto and Hwang (2012, p.212) advocate the idea of ‘culturally
driven emotion regulation.’ As per naturalistic theories, they argue for ‘a set of biologically
innate emotions that are produced by a core emotion system’ (p.92). However, these
emotions are then filtered through culturally-acquired schemas that calibrate how these
emotions are felt, interpreted, and reacted to.
Valence and Ambivalence
A key component of all emotion theories is valence. Whether such theories take a naturalistic
or a constructionist stance, or a synthesis of both, emotions are commonly appraised in terms
of valence, i.e., classified as positive or negative. Valence can be regarded as an ‘evaluative
response’ to one’s current situation, namely, the ‘operations by which organisms discriminate
threatening from nurturant environments’ (Cacioppo & Berntson, 1994, p.401). A common
way of conceptualising this response is in terms of approach vs. withdrawal. Positively-
valenced emotions are associated with neurophysiological and behavioural attraction towards
a stimulus, with concomitant feelings of pleasure and reward. Conversely, negatively-
valenced emotions are associated with a reaction against a stimulus, with associated
dysphoric feelings. This conceptualisation of valence has implications for outcomes such as
wellbeing. Theories of wellbeing tend to depict positively-valenced emotions as reflective of
wellbeing, and negatively-valenced ones as antithetical to it. For example, subjective
wellbeing has been theorised as comprising two main dimensions (Diener, 2000): cognitive,
i.e., judgements of life satisfaction; and affective, i.e., the ratio of positive to negative affect.
Thus, with the affective component, positively-valenced emotions are treated as cumulatively
contributing to wellbeing, whereas negatively-valenced ones detract from it.
However, over recent years, scholars have begun to pay attention to the intriguing
phenomenon of ambivalent emotions also known as mixed emotions i.e., emotional
experiences that are a compound of positive and negative valence. A classic example is
longing, which has been defined as a ‘blend of the primary emotions of happiness and
sadness’ (Holm, Greaker, & Strömberg, 2002, p.608). Such experiences can be appraised in
various ways. In their Analogical Emotional Scale, Carrera and Oceja (2007) differentiate
between sequential and simultaneous ambivalent emotions. The former occurs when an
emotion of one valence is swiftly followed by one of an oppositional valence. Perhaps even
more intriguingly, the latter describes the case when emotions of opposing valence are
simultaneously activated. To an extent, this possibility runs counter to traditional
conceptualisations of emotions, which tend to evoke the idea of a ‘single bipolar affective
mechanism, i.e., one continuum, with positive and negative valence at either end, and with
any given experience occupying one point along this spectrum (Larsen, Hemenover, Norris,
& Cacioppo, 2003, p.211). However, Cacioppo and Berntson’s (1994) Evaluative Space
Model suggests that rather than a bipolar continuum, the affect system involves a bivariate
space, in which positive and negative valence are functionally independent. As Larsen et al.
put it, ‘activation of positivity (appetition) may be partially distinct and separate from
activation of negativity (aversion) at the earliest stages of evaluative processes’ (p.213).
Larsen et al. do recognise that behavioural expression tends to be constrained towards a
bipolar organisation; i.e., overall, the person is compelled to either approach or withdraw
from a stimulus. However, at the level of underlying mechanisms, no such limiting conditions
are present: one may well experience a co-activation of positive and negative valence.
Part of the academic interest in ambivalent emotions lies in the recognition that such
experiences can be valuable or beneficial in various ways. For instance, Rees, Rothman,
Lehavy, and Sanchez-Burks (2013) observed that emotional ambivalence appears to increase
judgment accuracy. They suggest that this outcome is partly because people with a tendency
towards ambivalence are more accustomed to ‘thinking about a problem dialectically’
, i.e.,
approaching and understanding an issue from different and even conflicting perspectives
(p.360). Relatedly, Fong (2006) found that experiences of ambivalence mean that people are
more likely to identify unusual relationships between concepts, a process which is central to
creativity. Indeed, elaborating on this theme, Moss and Wilson (2014, p.75) describe
ambivalent emotions as ‘the underlying source of all creativity. They link ambivalence to
such vital creative processes as: the capacity to contemplate and even reconcile contradictory
The term ‘dialectic’ encompasses multiple meanings and usages. According to Merriam-Webster, these usages
include: (1) discussion and reasoning by dialogue as a means of intellectual investigation; (2) any systematic
reasoning, exposition, or argument that juxtaposes opposed or contradictory ideas, and usually seeks to resolve
their conflict; (3) a philosophical process associated with Georg Hegel, in which a thesis is challenged by its
antithesis, with a resulting synthesis that preserves the best of both; (4) an appraisal of the unfolding of human
history associated with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, influenced by Hegel, known as dialectical materialism;
and (5) the dialectical tension or opposition between two interacting forces or elements. In the present paper, it
is this more generic fifth definition that is being evoked whenever dialectics is brought into the discussion.
perspectives; sensitivity to overarching patterns; and willingness to challenge preconceived
ideas and expectations.
Furthermore, Larsen et al. (2003) have linked ambivalence directly to wellbeing,
specifically highlighting the role that co-activation can play in resilience, i.e., helping people
cope with distressing events. Specifically, modes of co-activation may enable negative
emotions and memories to be assimilated with meaningful narratives, thereby ameliorating
the impact of such feelings and memories. In support of this co-activation model of health, a
longitudinal study by Hershfield, Scheibe, Sims, and Carstensen (2012) found that mixed
emotions appear to diminish the physiological impact of stress. Similarly, in an occupational
context, Moss and Couchman (2012) suggest that familiarity with ambivalent emotions can
help prevent burnout, and as such that employees should be assisted in cultivating and
understanding such emotions.
Thus, scholars are beginning to recognise that wellbeing might not simply be served
by positively-valenced emotions, but also by more ambivalent ones. This recognition has
been highlighted by what is referred to as ‘second wave’ positive psychology (Lomas &
Ivtzan, 2016, p.1753). Positive psychology was founded upon a polarising dichotomy, in
which ostensibly negative phenomena were conceptualised as undesirable, and thus to be
avoided, whereas apparently positive qualities were treated as necessarily beneficial, and thus
to be sought. However, scholars are increasingly appreciative of the idea that wellbeing
involves an ‘inevitable dialectics between positive and negative aspects of living(Ryff &
Singer, 2003, p.272).
Lomas and Ivtzan (2016) have identified several principles at the heart of this
dialectical conception of wellbeing. First, the principle of appraisal recognises that it can be
hard to categorise phenomena as either positive or negative, as such appraisals are
fundamentally contextually-dependent. For instance, excessive optimism can lead to
miscalculations of risk, whereas appropriate pessimism may promote prudence (Norem,
2001). Second, the principle of covalence reflects the idea that many valuable emotions and
experiences are ambivalent, comprising positive and negative feelings (Lazarus, 2003), as
highlighted in the two paragraphs above. This observation is even so for the most cherished
human experiences, such as love. Although various forms of love exist, most are subject to a
complex dialectical dynamic, as reflected C.S. Lewis’ (1971, p.121) lament that ‘To love at
all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.’
However, recognition of covalence leads inexorably to the third principle: complementarity.
One could argue that the potential dysphoria inherent in love is not an aberration, but its very
condition: its light and dark aspects are inseparable, complementary and co-creating sides of
the same coin. As Bauman (2013, p.6) puts it, ‘to love means opening up to that most sublime
of all human conditions, one in which fear blends with joy into an alloy that no longer allows
its ingredients to separate.’
Thus, ambivalent emotions are increasingly recognised as being relevant to wellbeing.
However, cross-cultural scholars have suggested that Western cultures are relatively poor at
discerning and appreciating dialectical phenomena, particularly compared to Eastern cultures
(Nisbett et al., 2001). As such, this paper investigates the concept of ambivalent emotions,
and its relevance to wellbeing, through the study of so-called untranslatable words.
Untranslatable Words
This paper draws on recent work by Lomas (2016), who is developing a lexicography of
untranslatable words pertaining to wellbeing. Although untranslatability is a contested
phenomenon since linguist argue that it is hard to find exact translations for most words
(Hatim & Munday, 2004) the concept essentially refers to a word that does not have an
equivalent word or phrase in a given other language. The interest in such words is manifold.
First, they can assist in understanding other cultures, offering insights into their values,
conceptualisations, traditions, and ways of being. As Wierzbicka (1997, p.5) puts it, ‘words
with special, culture-specific meanings reflect and pass on not only ways of living
characteristic of a given society, but also ways of thinking.’ The theoretical context here is
the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis developed by Sapir (1929) and his student Whorf (1940)
which holds that language influences how people experience, understand, and perceive the
world. Of course, much work has occurred on this topic since Sapir and Whorf’s original
endeavours, particularly in terms of incorporating the insights of constructionism (Wetherell,
2013). Indeed, contemporary scholarship exploring the intersection of language and
experience is more likely to draw upon theorists such as Wittgenstein, Derrida, Foucault,
Gergen, and so on. Nevertheless, some theorising in this area still invokes their hypothesis as
a reference point, such as Perlovsky’s (2009, p.518) ‘Emotional Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.
The stronger version of their hypothesis is linguistic determinism, whereby language is
regarded as inextricably constituting thought. By contrast, the milder version simply asserts
that language shapes thought and experience. In relation to untranslatable words, the stronger
deterministic view posits that only people enmeshed within the culture that produced a given
word can truly understand or experience the phenomenon that the word signifies (Taylor,
1985). However, the milder relativistic perspective holds that such words are to an extent
accessible to people outside the culture, holding some potential universal relevance.
This latter point highlights a second vital element of interest regarding untranslatable
words: beyond just being informative vis-à-vis the culture that created a given term, such
words can enrich other lexica. This phenomenon of cultures borrowing words from each
other is central to language development. Indeed, of the some 600,000 lexemes in the Oxford
English Dictionary, the percentage of borrowed words those which cannot be taken back ‘to
the earliest known stages of a language’ (Lehmann, 1962, p.212), which in the case of
English are those not part of the original Anglo-Saxon lexicon may be as high as 41%
(Tadmor, 2009). Such borrowings are known generically as loanwords, although more
specific terminology has been developed to reflect varying levels of assimilation into the host
language (Durkin, 2014).
Of particular interest here is why words are borrowed. Haspelmath (2009) identifies
two main reasons: core versus cultural borrowings. The former is when a loanword replicates
a word that already exists i.e., with a similar meaning in the recipient language. This
process tends to happen for sociolinguistic reasons, e.g., due to the cultural capital associated
with using foreign words (Blank, 1999). This type of borrowing is not of concern here.
However, the second category of cultural borrowing is central. Haspelmath labels these cases
loanwords by necessity (p.46), where the recipient language lacks its own word for a
specific referent, such as when a new practice or idea is introduced to a culture. Thus, the
loanword is used for pragmatic reasons, as it allows speakers to articulate concepts they had
previously been unable to (Blank, 1999). In Lehrer’s (1974, p.105) terminology, such words
fill or bridge ‘semantic gaps,’ i.e., ‘the lack of a convenient word to express what one wants
to speak about. This notion of a semantic gap is what makes a given word untranslatable,
indicating phenomena that have been overlooked or undervalued by a particular culture, but
which another culture has noticed and identified.
Thus, a central premise of Lomaslexicography is that such words can enrich the
English lexicon, and thereby enhance our understanding of the world. In saying ‘our,’ this
refers to English speakers in general, and more specifically to academia. In addition to any
benefits the lexicography may hold for English-speaking cultures more broadly, it may
augment the nomological network of concepts in fields like psychology (Cronbach & Meehl,
1955). Of the numerous reasons why this would be desirable, foremost is the notion that,
from a critical perspective, mainstream psychology tends to be Western-centric, with much of
its empirical work conducted with participants described by Henrich, Heine, and Norenzayan
(2010) as WEIRD, i.e., belonging to societies that are Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich
and Democratic. Moreover, many scholars themselves are situated within such contexts,
which influences their perception and interpretation of the world. For instance, Becker and
Marecek (2008) submit that, in positive psychology, its conceptualisations of wellbeing have
been influenced by a Western tendency towards individualism and the self-interested pursuit
of happiness.
As a result, the current nomological network in psychology is arguably incomplete,
having been largely founded upon concepts that happen to have been identified in the English
language. The aim of the lexicography project is therefore to augment this network with
constructs which have not yet been identified in psychology, as signalled by an untranslatable
word. Clearly, a wide range of phenomena are potentially of interest. As such, to narrow the
focus of the lexicography to a manageable area of enquiry, its focus is on wellbeing, one
aspect of which is ambivalent emotions. Thus, this paper endeavours to provide a more
comprehensive understanding of this topic through the study of relevant untranslatable words.
Initial Data Collection and Analysis
In the original paper establishing the basis of the lexicography, Lomas (2016) identified 216
untranslatable words pertaining to wellbeing, located through a quasi-systematic review of
academic and grey literature. These words were analysed using analytic strategies borrowed
from GT, a qualitative methodology which allows theory to emerge inductively from the data,
via three main coding stages: open; axial; and selective (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). First, in a
process of open coding, the data the 216 words and their definitions were examined for
emergent themes. Then, axial coding involved comparing themes with one another, and
aggregating these themes into categories based on conceptual similarity. Six main categories
were produced, which in turn were paired into three meta-categories: feelings comprising
positive and ambivalent; relationships comprising love and pro-sociality; and psychological
development comprising character and spirituality.
Subsequent Data Collection and Analysis
Subsequent to the publication of the initial paper, the lexicography has expanded to nearly
1,000 words. This is partly through contributions to a website created to host the evolving
lexicography, and partly through follow-up enquiries into the categories generated in the
original paper via conceptual snowballing. The term snowballing derives from recruitment,
whereby recruited participants recommend or facilitate the participation of additional people,
particularly those who may be hard to reach (Sadler et al., 2010). Similarly, conceptual
snowballing refers to the process by which enquiries into a particular concept in this case a
given untranslatable word leads researchers to encounter related concepts. However,
despite the addition of numerous new words, these terms have not altered the overall
structure of the lexicography, i.e., they were accommodated within the existing framework of
meta-categories and categories.
This present paper focuses on the category of ambivalent emotions, which comprises
30 words here. Although all these words do pertain to wellbeing valued in their respective
cultures, and regarded as integral to a well-lived life they are a complex blend of light and
dark states of mind. These words were again analysed using the same analytic strategies,
borrowed from GT, as the original paper (Lomas, 2016). In open coding, words were
examined for thematic content, and analysed conceptually. Next, words were grouped
together into five themes. For example, numerous words pertained to forward-looking
feelings of hope and anticipation, and so were grouped into a category on that basis, labelled
hope. As a final point, as is common in qualitative analyses, the conceptual boundaries
between themes were not always clear-cut, but were fuzzy and overlapping. Indeed, a
different researcher, undertaking the same analysis, may well have configured the themesin a
different way. Thus, as is generally the case in such analyses, the configuration of themes
essentially represents a judgement call on the part of the author. This point shall be returned
to in the conclusion.
Results and Discussion
The analysis identified five themes: hope; longing; pathos, appreciation of imperfection; and
sensitivity to mystery. These will be discussed in turn, featuring a selection of relevant words.
First though, the analysis begins with an untranslatable concept that, although not an emotion,
constitutes an overarching motif for this category as a whole yin-yang.
The Chinese concept of yīn-yáng is emblematic of the notion that Eastern cultures are more
attuned to dialectical modes of cognition than those in the West (Nisbett et al., 2001). (That
said, while acknowledging the possibility of such East-West differences, one must be wary of
engaging in Orientalism (Said, 1995), i.e., homogenising the East as the Other, and
juxtaposing this construct in simplistic ways with a similarly homogenised West.
Nevertheless, the final three themes here do mainly include words from Eastern cultures,
particularly Japan.) The notion of yīn-yáng is central to Taoism, a philosophy and way of life
indigenous to China. Taoism centres on the Tao, which Oldstone-Moore (2003, p.6) describes
as a ‘nameless, formless, all pervasive power which brings all things into being and reverts
them back into non-being in an eternal cycle.’ The origins of Taoism lie in the I Ching or
Book of Changes which began life as a shamanic practice among the Chou people,
crystallising in written form around 1150 BCE. The overarching principle of the I Ching is
change, paradoxically the one immutable law at work in the universe. As Wilhelm (1950)
explained when introducing his translation of the text, ‘he who has perceived the meaning of
change fixes his attention no longer on transitory individual things but on the eternal,
immutable law [i.e., the Tao] at work in all change’ (p.59).
The I Ching did not only recognise the fundamental ubiquity of change, but also
identified the mechanism through which it occurs: dialectical interaction between opposites
(Fang, 2012). This dialectical philosophy was subsequently captured symbolically by the yīn-
yáng motif. Yin means cloud or cloudy, whereas yang means sun or sunlit; symbolically then,
as Fang explains, it encapsulates various ‘tenets of duality (p.2). The tenet of holistic duality
means that reality comprises co-dependent opposites (as per the principle of complementarity
above). Moreover, the tenet of dynamic duality holds that these opposites mutually transform
into each other in a dynamic process. As Fung (1948, p.19) articulates it, ‘When the sun has
reached its meridian, it declines. Thus, yīn-yáng does not simply present a pair of static
opposites, but includes an element of darkness in the light, and vice versa, capturing the
ceaseless process of becoming. Taoism’s overarching message is that a deep experiential
understanding of the Tao is the path to psychospiritual liberation. Most of the terms discussed
below reflect the principles outlined in this paragraph. With that in mind, the analysis turns to
the words themselves, beginning with hope.
Although hope tends to be portrayed as a positive emotion (e.g., Snyder, Irving, & Anderson,
1991), Lazarus (2003) suggests it is actually inherently co-valenced. The feeling inescapably
involves confidence that a desired outcome has a chance of occurring, yet also anxiety that it
will not, without which one would have certainty. Nevertheless, it is widely recognised as
pertaining to wellbeing. As such, it substantiates the general point that wellbeing can involve
a complex balance of light and dark feelings.
A comparable balance is found in words which all bring different inflections to this
area. In some, the balance of expectation is weighted more towards optimism than pessimism,
suggestive of greater certainty in the outcome. For instance, German and Dutch have nouns
which translate as pre-pleasure, Vorfreude and voorpret respectively, articulating the kind of
anticipation derived from imagining or looking forward to future pleasures, particularly ones
with a high certainty of occurring (Weigand, 2004). Anticipation is also expressed in the Inuit
verb iktsuarpok albeit that this also embeds elements of impatience and frustration which
is described by De Boinod (2007) as expressing the idea of frequently going outside to check
if a person for whom one is waiting has arrived.
Somewhat less confident than these anticipatory terms which imply that the desired
event is likely to occur are words that just express hope that it will. Again, some are tilted
more towards optimism than others. For instance, expressing a high level of confidence is the
Icelandic phrase Þetta reddast, roughly translatable as ‘it will all work out ok,’ which is used
especially as a rallying call when outcomes do not appear overly promising (Einarsdóttir et
al., 2015). Confidence of a somewhat different sort is reflected in terms that allude to destiny,
or to forces outside of one’s control, like the Arabic phrase In sha' Allah, which translates as
‘God willing’ (Nazzal, 2005). Similar, albeit less theistically-oriented, is the Russian particle
avos, which expresses faith, trust or hope in luck or fate. Such terms do not exactly express
confidence that an event will occur, but rather that whatever does actually eventuate, it is
already willed by God or fate. Such beliefs can be powerful, even salvational, as for example
Eltaiba and Harries (2015) observed in patients struggling with psychiatric conditions.
Finally, the analysis uncovered some rather more wistful words, where the balance of
expectation is tilted more towards pessimism, but crucially which are still not without hope.
These include the Italian adverb and interjection magari, and the Indonesian auxiliary verb
belum. Roughly translatable as maybe or possibly, these can be used to imply equivocation,
e.g., ‘I’ll possibly be there later,’ but also to express hopeful longing or wistful regret, e.g., ‘If
only …’. Lastly, almost entirely at the dark end of the spectrum is the Korean noun hahn.
Although conveying sorrow and regret, it is nevertheless presented as culturally important, as
reflected in Willoughby’s (2000, p.17) depiction as a ‘Korean ethos of pain and suffering’
(my italics). Moreover, Korean speakers have attested that the term contains some flickers of
hope, of waiting patiently in the belief that the adversity causing the sadness will eventually
be righted (Choi & Lee, 2007). A similar yearning is conveyed in the next theme.
Longing is an archetypally ambivalent emotion, being described by Holm et al. (2002, p.608)
as ‘a blend of the primary emotions of happiness and sadness.’ More poetically, Feldman
(2001, p.51) defines it as ‘an emotional state suffused with a melancholic sweetness that fills
the souls with longing, desire and memory.’ This tantalising ambivalence at once painful
and precious is captured by the German noun Sehnsucht, which roughly translates as life-
longings. This word is particularly interesting, being one of the few here to have been
analysed psychometrically. Scheibe, Freund, and Baltes (2007, p.779) found that it comprised
six different components: (a) utopian conceptions of an ideal path of life development; (b) a
sense of life’s incompleteness and imperfection; (c) a conjoint focus on the past, present, and
future; (d) ambivalent, bittersweet emotions; (e) deep reflection on life; and (f) a mental
world imbued with symbolic richness. Overall, they describe Sehnsucht as ‘a constructive
sense of the highs and lows, the gains and losses of life; its emotional tone is fundamentally
bittersweet, perhaps even closer to sweetbitter.’
Being bittersweet, longing is inherently ambivalent. Nevertheless, it can be perceived
as integral to wellbeing, with the words included here being highly valued in their respective
cultures. Some terms articulate longing for one’s homeland – blending nostalgia, wistfulness,
and yearning including toska in Russian, hiraeth in Welsh, saudade in Portuguese, and
morriña in Spanish and Galician. However, such words can sometimes also imply that this
longed-for goal may be tragically unattainable, which takes this theme in a rather different
direction to that of hope. For instance, the writer Robert MacFarlane (2017) defines hiraeth
as an ‘acute longing for a home-place or time to which you cannot return and without which
you are incomplete.’ Moreover, these terms are not necessarily generalizable words for
longing, but are frequently specifically tied to cultural heritage and national identity. For
instance, Coupland, Bishop, and Garrett (2003, p.164) explicitly describe hiraeth as ‘a Welsh
cultural longing for Wales, highlighting its use in a Welsh tourist initiative appealing to the
‘Welsh diaspora’: ‘No one with a half drop of Welsh blood should fail to explore this land of
Thus, such words tend to be held in high regard as emblematic of national character.
For instance, echoing the depiction of hiraeth, Feldman (2001, p.51) describes saudade as ‘an
emotional state that pervades Brazilian culture and thought, while Silva (2012, p.203) calls it
a ‘key Portuguese emotion.’ Likewise, Wierzbicka (1989, p.41) suggests that toska is ‘one of
the leitmotives of Russian literature and Russian conversation.She uses the term as an
argument against the universality of emotions, depicting it as one of three ‘key’ words that
define Russian character and culture. (The other two are duša and sud’ba, which roughly
mean soul and fate respectively.) Thus, should someone from these cultures not experience
such feelings, these theorists imply that life would be incomplete, or the person would be
lacking some vital cultural sensibility.
Conversely, other words are more evocative of freedom, of longing for new places
and experiences. The German Fernweh, for example, combines fern, far or distant, with Weh,
woe or pain, and is described as the call of faraway places’ (Gabriel, 2004, p.155). Although
it can pertain to one’s homeland, the construct can even depict a yearning for hitherto
unknown or unvisited places. In that sense, Fernweh may function as a counterpart to
Heimweh (regular homesickness). Indeed, Diriwächter (2009) suggest that people
especially the young may oscillate between the two, desiring to explore the world and so
experiencing Fernweh yet also craving the safety of home, thereby experiencing Heimweh.
Relatedly, Wanderlust conveys a yearning for roaming or wandering, or more literally,
hiking. Such terms are inherently ambivalent: to an extent they express dissatisfaction with
the status-quo; however, they are also frequently positioned as admirable romantic
sensibilities that give depth to life, and reflect well on a person’s character (Shields, 2011). A
similar valorisation can be found with respect to pathos.
Appropriately enough, pathos is itself a loanword, borrowed from Greek in the 16th Century.
In its original context, it tended to denote suffering, or more generally emotion. However, in
English, the term has come to refer to the capacity of phenomena to evoke suffering
particularly sadness in people. In contemporary culture, one often encounters a tendency to
regard sadness as invidious, and even a mild form of depression (Horwitz & Wakefield,
2007). However, some scholars have argued that sadness can be valuable, reflecting a moral
sensitivity to suffering (Decety, Michalska, & Kinzler, 2012), and indicative of a refined
aesthetic sensibility (Sachs, Damasio, & Habibi, 2015). Indeed, the ability to be moved by art
has been directly linked to wellbeing, including through: regulating negative emotions, such
as through processes of catharsis; retrieving valued memories; and inducing connectedness
(Taruffi & Koelsch, 2014).
Words valorising the capacity to be moved by the world include the Spanish term
duende, which can denote a heightened state of passion, particularly in response to art
(Miller, 2012). Here it is relevant to note the etymology of passion, deriving as it does from
the Latin pati, meaning to suffer or endure. Used in an artistic context, duende epitomises this
dialectical notion of passion, reflecting an openness to both the highs and lows of life. For
instance, the artist Nick Cave (1999) argues that all love songs if they are to be genuine
‘must contain duende: The writer who refuses to explore the darker regions of the heart will
never be able to write convincingly about the wonder, the magic and the joy of love.’ Such
sentiments align with a broader Romantic sensibility that has been influential within Europe
from the 18th Century onwards. Emphasising the importance of emotion, Romanticism
encompassed the idea that melancholic sensitivity to suffering is the mark of a refined
character, of even being too refined for the coarseness of the world, as epitomised by
Goethe’s (1774) tragic novel The Sorrows of Young Werther (Thorson & Öberg, 2003). In
this context one finds the valorisation of terms like Weltschmerz, expressing a non-specific
world-weary melancholy arising from the ‘pain of living’ (Rudnick, 2000, p.155).
Valorisation of pathos is not limited to Europe. Woolfolk (2002) suggests a similar
aesthetic came to be revered in Japan, as captured by the eighteenth century scholar Motoori
Norinaga, who coined the term mono no aware, combining aware, i.e., sensitivity or sadness,
and mono, which means ‘things.’ As Woolfolk explains, the concept reflects the capacity to
be ‘touched or moved by the world’ (p.23). However, mono no aware expresses a somewhat
different sensibility to duende or Weltschmerz, which carry connotations of being tumultuous
and heavy respectively. By contrast, mono no aware pertains more to a delicate appreciation
of the ephemerality of life. This mood is reflected in the opening of The Tale of the Heike, the
14th Century folktale: ‘The sound of the Gion shōja bells echoes the impermanence of all
things… The proud do not endure, they are like a dream on a spring night’ (cited in
Smethurst, 2002, p.5).
Here one can appreciate the idea that Eastern cultures have developed a particularly
refined sensitivity to dialectics. The emergence of the mono no aware sensibility can partially
be attributed to the influence of Zen upon Japanese culture, with Zen being a branch of
Buddhism that flowered in Japan from the 12th Century onwards (Suzuki, 1959). A central
idea within Buddhism is that notion referred to in Sanskrit as anitya that existence is
impermanent and ephemeral. Anitya is regarded as one of the three defining features of
existence, along with anātman, which captures the idea that all phenomena lack an intrinsic
or fixed identity, and dukha, which translates as suffering or dissatisfaction. Essentially,
Buddhism teaches that people usually are in denial or ignorance about the reality of anitya
and anātman, and thus crave and attach to phenomena that are intrinsically subject to change;
these tendencies the leads inexorably to dukha. Thus, one can find liberation through deep
appreciation of anitya and anātman.
This teaching helps contextualise the significance of mono no aware. Among the
distinguishing features of Zen is its emphasis on artistic expression and appreciation as a way
of communicating its spiritual teachings. The rationale is that artistic pursuits are particularly
efficacious at revealing the truth of reality, far more than discursive prose (Hisamatsu, 1971).
As part of this process, Zen and Japanese culture more broadly not only encouraged
acceptance of impermanence, but elevated such acceptance into an aesthetic sensibility that to
an extent can even appreciate this ephemerality. Such appreciation does not mean
impermanence is celebrated; there is still pathos at this transiency. However, mono no aware
is a complex state in which this sadness is combined with gratitude for life’s beauty, however
briefly it is experienced. Moreover, its ephemerality is recognised as being integral to its very
beauty. As expressed by Yoshida Kenkō (1283-1350), ‘If man were never to fade away…
how things would lose their power to move us!(cited in Keene, 1967, p.7). As Prusinski
(2013, p.23) puts it, ‘the beauty lies not in the object itself, but in the whole experience,
transformation, and span of time in which the object is present and changing.’ Intriguingly
though, the ephemerality of mono no aware is counterbalanced in Zen by a complementary
emotional mood, which reflects an appreciation of imperfection, as the next theme explores.
Appreciation of Imperfection
While mono no aware points towards the inevitability of erosion, Zen also seeks to show that,
in this process of changing, a certain beauty is nonetheless retained. As such, the term wabi-
sabi conveys an appreciation of what is normally regarded as imperfect which as such, seen
with the right spirit, is no longer so. As Prusinski (2013, p.25) puts it, wabi-sabi depicts ‘a
crude or often faded beauty that correlates with a dark, desolate sublimity.’ Although wabi
and sabi each bring subtly different qualities to the compound roughly, rustic and aged
beauty respectively they form a coherent aesthetic, characterised by austerity, imperfection,
and awareness of the passage of time (Park, 2005). This aesthetic is depicted by Tanizaki
(1933, pp.11-12), who describes preferring a ‘pensive lustre to a shallow brilliance, a murky
light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity… We love things
that bear the marks of grime, soot, and weather, and we love the colors and the sheen that call
to mind the past that made them.’ To appreciate the nuances of this sensibility, let’s examine
its components in turn.
With wabi, appreciation of the impermanence of existence is reflected in the notion
we ought not only to value that which appears perfect and complete. As the 14th Century
monk Kenkō asked, ‘Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, at the moon only
when it is cloudless?... Gardens strewn with faded flowers are worthier of our admiration’
(cited in Keene, 1967, p.115). This mode of appreciation means not disdaining phenomena
for being imperfect, but rather valuing their unique gifts. This aesthetic is epitomised by the
art of tea, where flawed utensils are more prized than ‘perfect’ one. Reactions to these items
thus illustrate a person’s understanding of life; as Sen no Rikyū put it, ‘There are those who
dislike a piece when it is even slightly damaged; such an attitude shows a complete lack of
comprehension’ (cited in Hirota, 1995, p.226). Reflecting this philosophy, Zen has developed
an approach to ceramics known as kintsugi, in which broken pieces are repaired using gold
lacquer (kin means golden, and tsugi means joinery). Fault lines are not hidden or regarded as
blemishes, but rather are accentuated as indicative of the object’s history and character. Thus,
the wabi aesthetic reflects a deep acceptance of life, and its imperfections, in contrast to the
futile quest for perfection. As Hirota (1995, p.274) explains, Wabi means that even in
straitened circumstances no thought of hardship arises. Even amid insufficiency, one is
moved by no feeling of want… If you complain that things have been ill-disposed this is
not wabi.’
Similarly, sabi captures the dark elegance of aged or ancient phenomena, the rustic
patina that lends these gravitas and significance. Even as things change and age as per
mono no aware beauty is found in this process. Sabi thus distils the notion of aging well,
being ‘ripe with experience and insight,’ together with the ‘deep solitude’ that can
accompany the passage of time (Hammitzsch, 1979, p.46). A haiku by Bashō (1644-1694
CE) generally considered the foremost proponent of the art conveys the lonely beauty of
sabi: Solitary now —; Standing amidst the blossoms; Is a cypress tree’ (cited in Dyrness &
kärkkäinen, 2008, p.66). Zen argues that sorrow at impermanence and the passage of time
might be transmuted if one could see it through such eyes. As such, its art aims at this kind of
re-evaluation of beauty, finding value in what was previously judged to lack it (Cooper,
2013). Above all, Prusinski (2013, p.32) suggests that Zen art aims to engender a ‘heightened
spirituality’ in people, engendering appreciation of the principles at the heart of Buddhism
e.g., impermanence by evoking mono no aware and wabi-sabi. This ‘heightened
spirituality’ is epitomised by the last theme here.
Sensitivity to Mystery
This final theme features just one term, but one that nevertheless epitomises the ambivalent
feelings above, namely, yūgen. According to Watts (1957), this constitutes the third main
perceptual-emotional mood that Zen aims to evoke (alongside mono no aware and wabi-
sabi). Parkes (2011) describes it as the most ineffable of aesthetic concepts, although he
tentatively renders it as profound grace’ (section 5). In philosophical texts yūgen tends to
mean means dark or mysterious; as Suzuki (1959, pp. 220-221) elucidates, both and gen
denote depth and remoteness, and thus together convey unknowability, impenetrability,
obscurity, beyond intellectual calculability, but not ‘utter darkness.’ As a result, the term can
describe the unfathomable depths of existence the mysterious quiescence beneath all
things(Kaula, 1960, pp.69-70) and the inability of the mind to comprehend these depths.
However, although the mystery of existence may elude rational understanding, yūgen
also reflects the possibility that it nevertheless may be intuited in some inchoate way
(Tsubaki, 1971). As Suzuki continues, ‘It is hidden behind the clouds, but not entirely out of
sight, for we feel its presence, its secret message being transmitted through the darkness
however impenetrable to the intellect. Moreover, yūgen does not simply reflect one’s
awareness of these depths, but the way one might be deeply moved by them, without quite
knowing why. As the 13th Century Kamo no Chōmei (1212) elucidates: ‘It is like an autumn
evening under a colorless expanse of silent sky. Somehow, as if for some reason that we
should be able to recall, tears well uncontrollably’ (cited in Dyrness & kärkkäinen, 2008,
p.65). Thus, yūgen epitomises the strange potency of ambivalent emotions, and their capacity
to elevate one’s experience in unusual and yet profound ways.
This paper has explored a range of ambivalent emotions which together militate against the
notion that wellbeing only involves subjectively pleasant emotions. Instead, the concepts
explored above show that wellbeing also includes subtler feelings that may not be entirely
comfortable, but which are nevertheless important. The words in this category were grouped
into five broad themes: hope; longing; pathos; appreciation of imperfection; and sensitivity to
mystery. This thematic structure somewhat aligns with a comparable taxonomy of ambivalent
emotions identified by Moss and Wilson (2015), who suggested that such emotions can be
aggregated into four main constellations: nostalgia (cf. longing in the present paper); hope (as
per the present paper); awe (cf. sensitivity to mystery); and compassion (cf. pathos). Indeed,
the extent to which the taxonomies align is notable, especially given that the schema in the
present paper was generated inductively, without reference to this earlier study. However, the
two taxonomies also diverge in interesting ways. For instance, compassion tends to occur in
relation to the suffering of sentient beings, involving ‘feelings of love and concern that
individuals feel towards either their children and pets or other vulnerable people and animals’
(Moss & Wilson, 2015, p.42). In that sense, pathos is perhaps a broader category of emotion,
since this feeling may be evoked without reference to other people at all, such as arising out
of an awareness of the transiency of the world, and of one’s own life.
A further point of tension between the taxonomies is the intersection of hope (which
is in both schemas), longing (which is just in the present one), and nostalgia (which is just in
Moss and Wilson’s). All three express a yearning for something that is, for whatever reason,
not presently available or assured. In the case of Moss and Wilson, this yearning has been
refracted according to a temporal lens, with hope pertaining to the future, and nostalgia
pertaining to the past. By contrast, in the current paper, in addition to hope is the more
general theme of longing, which is strictly atemporal, i.e., it can apply equally to phenomena
located in the past, present, or future. Arguably then, one could regard hope simply as a
subset of longing. However, here it was deemed preferable to have these two as separate
themes. This decision arose from a reflection on their respective subjective dynamics. The
crucial distinction seems to concern the possibility of the desired outcome being attainable.
With hope, this possibility is still open, no matter how small. However, being graspable in
this way can also introduce elements of anxiety, i.e., in case this outcome might prove
elusive. By contrast, longing does not require that the outcome be attainable, which seems to
lend the feeling a tone that is rather more melancholy, but yet also more resigned and
accepting. This melancholic sensibility is reflected in Robert MacFarlane’s (2017)
aforementioned definition of hiraeth as an ‘acute longing for a home-place or time to which
you cannot return and without which you are incomplete.’
Future research will help to further elucidate the points of convergence and
divergence between the two taxonomies, and may perhaps result in a more expansive
combined schema. That said, it bears emphasising that these two taxonomies are of words
that are contingently attached to complexes of emotion or feeling, rather than of actual
embodied experiences per se. In analysing how people draw selectively on cultural resources
(particularly language) to stabilise the meaning of affective experience, both taxonomies have
slightly different emphases and conclusions. It is not that one taxonomy is necessarily more
correct or accurate than another. Consider the possibility endorsed here that affective
experiences are filtered through linguistic-conceptual schemas, as per Feldman Barrett’s
(2006) conceptual-act model. As such, these two taxonomies might simply constitute subtly
different schemas, each being valid on their own terms, since there are many viable ways of
conceptually ‘carving up’ and representing subjective experience.
Overall though, the analysis lends credence to the idea that wellbeing does not merely
involve positively-valenced emotions, but also includes the kind of complex, ambivalent
feelings adumbrated above. For instance, as noted in the introduction, ambivalent emotions
have been associated with a raft of beneficial outcomes, from judgement accuracy (Rees et
al., 2013) and creativity (Moss & Wilson), to resilience in coping with stress and distress
(Hershfield et al., 2012). As such, this emergent literature, together with the analysis here,
points towards the need for a more expansive view of wellbeing than is provided by current
dominant models, which tend to restrict their focus to positively-valenced feelings and to
overlook the value of ambivalent emotions. For instance, positive psychology includes two
main overarching models of wellbeing: subjective, or hedonic (Diener, 2000); and
psychological, or eudaimonic (Ryff, 1989). With the former, in terms of its affective
dimension, negatively-valenced emotions are unambiguously regarded as detracting from
wellbeing. The latter is less concerned with affect per se, and comprises, according to Ryff,
six main components: purpose in life; autonomy; positive relations; environmental mastery;
self-acceptance; and personal growth. One could perhaps make the case that ambivalent
emotions pertain to some of these categories, such as self-acceptance. For instance, in Ryff’s
psychometric scale, self-acceptance is assessed on the basis of such questions as ‘I made
some mistakes in the past, but I feel that all in all everything has worked out for the best.’
One could possibly read a degree of ambivalence into that sentence; however, it is rather
implicit and understated.
As such, a more explicit acknowledgment of the value of ambivalent emotions in
fields like positive psychology would be welcome. Doing so would help to redress one of the
dominant messages associated with the field, namely that wellbeing is essentially a question
of positively-valenced emotions. Not only is that message somewhat inaccurate as revealed
in the studies cited above on the value of ambivalent emotions but it may be actively
unhelpful. Critical theorists such as Held (2002, p.965) have accused positive psychology of
contributing to a ‘tyranny’ of positive thinking. For instance, as explored by Ehrenreich
(2009) and Davies (2015), in certain contexts such as the business sphere positively-
valenced emotions can become expected, even obligatory. This trend may mean a culture of
implicit blame and stigmatisation towards those who fail to achieve this goal, with
unhappiness denigrated almost as a personal failing. Moreover, this process can even have
the paradoxical effect of increasing unhappiness, since in being exhorted to pursue positive
emotions, people are continually prompted into feeling that they are falling short. In that
context, an emphasis on the value of ambivalent emotions would provide an antidote to the
pressure to continually feel positive that many people can experience.
Before closing, it is worth noting that the analysis has its limitations. First, the
treatment of the words has been inevitably restricted by attempting to convey an overarching
comparative analysis rather than focusing in-depth on a small number of terms within the
constraints of a short article. Moreover, given that translation is such a problematic and
contested exercise, the descriptions of the untranslatable words may not satisfy all speakers of
the donor language. Finally, in addition to issues around translation and hermeneutics, the
analysis, and the lexicography itself, are by no means exhaustive. The lexicography is a
work-in-progress, with many more potential terms remaining to be identified.
Nonetheless, the analysis still offers a useful cross-cultural appraisal of ambivalent
emotions, limited and partial as it may be. Future research will hopefully build on this study,
developing an even more comprehensive cross-cultural conception of this important but
underappreciated dimension of wellbeing. The topic is relevant to diverse fields, not only
positive psychology. For instance, disciplines such as architecture and urban planning may be
able to glean insights from aesthetic concepts such as wabi-sabi, and from the general notion
of appreciation of imperfection. Similarly, therapeutic psychological disciplines may find it
useful to help people to cultivate these kinds of emotions. For instance, recent years have
seen a wealth of initiatives based around the idea and practice of mindfulness, which derives
from the Pāli term sati (Lomas, 2017). There may be therapeutic value in developing similar
initiatives around the ambivalent terms explored above, from mono no aware to yūgen. One
hopes that these possibilities will be explored over the coming years, thereby realising the
potential of ambivalent emotions.
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... Still in this affective state-space, a second parameter of interest is arousal, where attention has focused particularly on low arousal emotions (which, as with B/H generally, are emphasised in Eastern conceptions of wellbeing; Leu et al., 2011). One could conceivably be in balance if experiencing high PA and NA simultaneously, as in highly-charged mixed emotions (Lomas, 2017c). More often though, 'emotional balance' (or 'equanimity') -is invoked for low arousal states (i.e., 'neutral' emotions involving minimal PA and NA). ...
... Consider that people sometimes actively seek such emotions -e.g., listening to sad music -for reasons including emotional catharsis, understanding experiences, and finding meaning amidst difficulties (Vuoskoski et al., 2012). Relatedly, some of the most cherished experiences, such as love, can involve a potent mix of emotions (Lomas, 2017c). From this perspective then, wellbeing includes the harmonisation of diverse emotions. ...
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The relevance of balance and harmony to wellbeing has been under-appreciated in psychology. Even though these concepts have received considerable attention across different contexts (e.g., work-life balance), this literature is fragmented and scattered. There have been few attempts to bring these disparate threads together, or to centre these concepts as foundational and important across all aspects of human functioning. This paper remedies this lacuna by offering a narrative review of these diverse works. Relevant literature is organised into four emergent categories: affect, cognition, behaviour, and self-other relations. Throughout these, balance and harmony can be appreciated as not merely relevant to wellbeing, but arguably a defining principle, a 'golden thread' running through its myriad dimensions (though this thread is itself multifaceted, comprising a cluster of interlinked concepts). Based on this analysis, an overarching definition of wellbeing is offered: the dynamic attainment of optimal balance and harmony in any-and ideally all-aspects of life. This paper provides a foundation and stimulus for further work on these important topics.
... The six categories initially identified are still present, and moreover have been enriched by the additional words, with analyses published on each: positive feelings (Lomas, 2017a), ambivalent feelings (Lomas, 2017b), love (Lomas, 2018b), prosociality (Lomas, 2021b), character (Lomas, 2019b), and spirituality (Lomas, 2019a), plus a theoretical paper on the project itself (Lomas, 2018a). However, six new categories have also been identified. ...
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Art and aesthetics have long been understood as central to human well-being and flourishing. However, the academic study of these phenomena has been critiqued for its Western-centricity and general lack of cross-cultural engagement. As such, this article aims to broaden our appreciation of the contours of aesthetics by engaging with relevant “untranslatable” words (i.e., without an exact equivalent in English), thereby enriching our conceptual map of this arena. Over 300 relevant terms from 24 languages were located and analyzed using grounded theory. Four main metathemes were identified, each with several themes: stimuli (spanning the sensory modalities of sight, sound, taste, smell, touch, and the mind), qualities (harmony, naturalness, simplicity, prettiness, and shock), dynamics (appreciation, understanding, and inspiration), and modes (modalities, movements, and techniques). The article therefore adds to our understanding of this vital arena of human well-being and flourishing, though, as ever, further work is needed.
... Interestingly, the relation between well-being and the words in bold has a dual function: cohesive as the words health, job satisfaction, and social support suggest a range of positive feelings and interactions in the examples 5, 6, and 7; contrastive as the words poverty, inequality, stress and terrorism in the examples 8, 9 and 10 denote social plagues in stark contrast with well-being. As the coordinating conjunction and can signal a juxtaposition or a temporal sequence, these unexpected collocations, combining positive and negative feelings/realities, tend to suggest the ambivalence of well-being and the way positive and negative aspects of living are necessarily intertwined (Lomas, 2017). ...
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This volume brings together different kinds of expertise and disciplinary approaches to human development and well-being, crucial issues in today’s world threatened by such diverse problems as climate change, natural catastrophes, unequal distribution of wealth and economic exploitation of developing countries, uncontrolled technological progress, systematic violations of human rights, discrimination and racism, health emergencies. The language analysis toolkit ̶ e.g., cross-cultural pragmatics, corpus linguistics, Critical Discourse Analysis, Systemic Functional Linguistics ̶ has been enriched by the analytical tools and frameworks volunteered by scholars in demography, economics, international relations, law and political geography. The analysis of the specialized discourses of well-being and human development has meant to investigate to what extent different communities of practice share approaches and methodologies around these current issues.
... Interestingly, the relation between well-being and the words in bold has a dual function: cohesive as the words health, job satisfaction, and social support suggest a range of positive feelings and interactions in the examples 5, 6, and 7; contrastive as the words poverty, inequality, stress and terrorism in the examples 8, 9 and 10 denote social plagues in stark contrast with well-being. As the coordinating conjunction and can signal a juxtaposition or a temporal sequence, these unexpected collocations, combining positive and negative feelings/realities, tend to suggest the ambivalence of well-being and the way positive and negative aspects of living are necessarily intertwined (Lomas, 2017). ...
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This paper examines the concept of well-being from an applied linguistic perspective and with a view to demonstrating some of the tools and procedures of English for Specific Purposes as a research domain.
... As organizations work across borders and deal with different communities and people with different backgrounds, there is a greater tendency for ambivalence. Ambivalence can be strengthened by untranslatability (Lomas, 2017), given the different cultural backgrounds of the actors, and can both lead to creative processes and to frictions. By focalizing on Northern Ghana, the chapter looks into how the operations of international nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in developing countries might lead to ambivalence within the receiving communities, despite NGOs' purported positive intentions. ...
In this chapter I explore the tensions that exist between international development organizations and the communities in which they operate. As organizations work across borders and deal with different communities and people with different backgrounds, there is a greater tendency for ambivalence. Ambivalence can be strengthened by untranslatability (Lomas, 2017), given the different cultural backgrounds of the actors, and can both lead to creative processes and to frictions. By focalizing on Northern Ghana, the chapter looks into how the operations of international nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in developing countries might lead to ambivalence within the receiving communities, despite NGOs’ purported positive intentions
... Such words indicate phenomena and insights which have not yet been lexicalised in English, and hence tend to be overlooked by psychology, to its detriment. By analysing these words thematically it has been possible to augment the field's current conceptual 'map' of various topics, including positive emotions (Lomas, 2017b), ambivalent emotions (Lomas, 2017c), prosociality (Lomas, 2018b), love (Lomas, 2018c), spirituality (Lomas, 2019a), eco-connection (Lomas, 2019b), and character (Lomas, 2019c). ...
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The development of academic fields is often described through the metaphor of ‘waves.’ Following the instantiation of positive psychology (the first wave), scholarship emerged looking critically at the notions of positive and negative, becoming known as its second wave. More recently, we discern an equally significant shift, namely scholarship that in various ways goes beyond the individual and embraces greater complexity. This includes going beyond the individual person as the primary focus of enquiry to look more deeply at the groups and systems in which people are embedded. It also involves becoming more interdisciplinary and multicultural, and embracing a wider range of methodologies. We submit that these interrelated ripples constitute a form of epistemological ‘broadening’ that merit the label of an incoming ‘third wave.’ This paper identifies the key dynamics of this wave, allowing appreciation not only of the field’s leading edge, but also its developmental potential into the future.
We introduce the first tool to measure the emotional ambiguity on three bivariate spaces: valence (dimensions of positivity and negativity); origin (automaticity and reflectiveness); and activation (subjective significance and arousal). Our database consists of 2650 word stimuli, assessed by 1380 participants in total with the usage of Self-Assessment Manikin scales for each dimension. We show that the ambiguity of valence, origin, and activation may be successfully perceived and reported in a behavioral procedure. The study has allowed us to compute characteristics of each word for every emotional dimension, thus providing the category of intensity of ambiguity (low, moderate, or high). We also studied the curvilinear relationships between the dimensions. Possible usage, specifics, and limitations of our database are discussed.
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The past 150 years have seen remarkable advances in the study of wellbeing. To appreciate the value and significance of these developments, this paper offers a historical perspective on their dynamics, arguing that we have seen four great waves of wellbeing scholarship in the modern West. I begin by exploring the wave metaphor itself, and then propose that these waves have been unfurling in a Western cultural ‘ocean.’ As such, I then explore key historical currents that have shaped this ocean, including Greek philosophy, Christianity, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. From there, the narrative considers the emergence of the first wave (psychiatry and psychotherapy), second wave (humanistic psychology), and third wave (positive psychology). The paper concludes by suggesting we are seeing an emerging fourth wave of ‘global wellbeing scholarship,’ in which these Western waters are beginning to intermingle with other regional oceans (which have likewise progressed through their own developmental currents and waves), creating a more globally inclusive picture of wellbeing.
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Purpose: The purpose of this comprehensive literature review was to report the available studies that link the variables of interest: ambivalence and interpersonal relationships. Through the CLR method (Comprehensive Literature Review), 17 relevant results were found. Future lines of research and limitations are discussed. Methodology: According to the CLR methodology, three phases make up a comprehensive literature review; A-. Exploration Phase: It has 5 steps 1) Exploring beliefs and topics, 2) Initiating the search, 3) Storing and Organizing information, 4) Selecting / deselecting information, 5) Expanding the search (MODES); B-. Interpretation Phase: 6) Analyzing / Synthesizing information; C-. Communication Phase: 7) Presenting the CLR Report. Therefore, this methodology was carried out in order to fulfill the purpose of this literature review. Main findings: In total 17 studies were evaluated in the result section; six qualitative studies, five experimental, four quantitative, and two neurosciences studies. The studies carried out to date of this research, suggest that ambivalence is directly linked to making decisions, achieving goals, and in how the individual perceives others and, therefore, what kind of attitudes take towards them. Interestingly, the literature review suggests ambivalence as a mediating variable that plays a vital role in shaping and developing affection, behaviors, and cognitions into the interpersonal relationships which have an impact at the individual and relationship level. However, it was not found study that measures the direct effect of ambivalence in interpersonal relationships. Implications: The literature reported till now, does not settle it entirely clear the type of link between both variables, whether this is a moderating, mediating, dependent or independent variable. Given that most studies are with multiple variables, it is mostly suggested that it is moderating. However, there is not enough evidence to corroborate this nature of the variable, much less, in the field of interpersonal relationships. Novelty: Being defined ambivalence as having mixed or opposite feelings, thoughts, and behaviors towards the same subject, it was found that the selected studies do not measure the direct effect of the experience of ambivalence in interpersonal relationships. As well as no psychometric tool was found to measure ambivalence within interpersonal relationships. The aforementioned gives clear guidelines for action for new research proposals, psychological interventions, creation of psychometric tools, and new theoretical frameworks. Besides, promising guidelines are detected through the ABC ambivalence model.
Ambivalent affective states, such as bittersweetness, nostalgia, and longing, which are felt as having both positive and negative aspects, are an important component of human experience but have received little attention. The most influential theoretical frameworks in affective neuroscience focus largely on univalenced states. As a result, it is not known whether ambivalent affect corresponds to a simultaneously positive and negative valenced state or whether it results from a rapid vacillation between positive and negative states. Here we hypothesize that ambivalent affect involves both mechanisms, that is, rapid vacillation and simultaneity of positive and negative affect, albeit at different neurobiological levels. Rapidly vacillating univalent emotions could give rise to an ambivalent feeling, a mechanism that depends on brainstem nuclei that facilitate rapid action programs of emotional behavior while inhibiting opposing behaviors. This reciprocal inhibition prevents organisms from simultaneously implementing responses to conflicting emotions but also allows for rapid switching between emotions triggered by counterfactual thinking and rapid reappraisal of situations. We propose that as these transitions occur and respective interoceptive information reaches the insular cortex, further processing of this “emotional moment” would allow separate emotional events to be experienced as one “mixed” and integrated feeling.
This book is the first work to address the question of what kinds of words get borrowed in a systematic and comparative perspective. It studies lexical borrowing behavior on the basis of a world-wide sample of 40 languages, both major languages and minor languages, and both languages with heavy borrowing and languages with little lexical influence from other languages. The book is the result of a five-year project bringing together a unique group of specialists of many different languages and areas. The introductory chapters provide a general up-to-date introduction to language contact at the word level, as well as a presentation of the project's methodology. All the chapters are based on samples of 1000-2000 words, elicited by a uniform meaning list of 1460 meanings. The combined database, comprising over 70,000 words, is published online at the same time as the book is published. For each word, information about loanword status is given in the database, and the 40 case studies in the book describe the social and historical contact situations in detail.The final chapter draws general conclusions about what kinds of words tend to get borrowed, what kinds of word meanings are particularly resistant to borrowing, and what kinds of social contact situations lead to what kinds of borrowing situations. © 2009 by Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co. KG, 10785 Berlin, Germany. All rights reserved.