Saturday, June 11, 2011

A Little More Happy Than Sad

In her book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, Amy Krouse Rosenthal writes about her search for a word that means being happy and sad at the same time but a little more happy than sad, like the way you feel when you listen to a Van Morrison song. She rejects "melancholy" and "bittersweet" because both of those are more sad than happy, but she eventually comes up with "wabi-sabi," which is a Japanese expression she saw defined in a magazine that apparently captures more happy than sad.

Maybe it does, but I'm thinking that you have to really understand and appreciate the nuances of a language before you can know beyond a shadow of a doubt whether a particular word is a little more happy than sad or a little more sad than happy. In other words, if Amy Krouse Rosenthal doesn't speak Japanese I don't see how she would know that "wabi-sabi" is really a little more happy than sad because it's not enough just to read a definition. So I decided I would try to think of a word in English that captures this.

And I am pleased to report that I have. How do you feel when you walk by a house you once admired with your first love? You don't feel nostalgic, which is too much happy with almost no sad, like how you might feel when you think about how much fun you had at your friend's wedding. No, you feel wistful.


  1. When I hear a Van Morrison song, I usually think "they're playing Brown Eyed Girl again?!"

    Wistful seems more sad than happy to me. Dictionary definitions back me up on this:

    I really think that bittersweet is the right word here, Rosenthal be damned. Check out dictionary definitions:

    Random House has it as "pleasure mingled with pain or regret," while Collins has it as "pleasant but tinged with sadness." These suggest that happiness is the dominant aspect of bittersweet, which confirms my own gut sense of things.

  2. Personally, I think wistful sound just a touch too happy. But, I guess it's as good as wabi-sabi until we come up with something more fitting.