Chinese words for the four emotions

An aged relative recently remarked, “In life there is more suffering than joy.” Of course, I’m in no position to argue with this beloved centenarian who has been around since motorized movie cameras first replaced hand-cranked cameras and who has witnessed WWI, WWII as well as the Second Sino-Japanese War. In fact, you may agree with her when you take a look at the Chinese phrase that lists the emotional responses to what life deals to each and every person – 喜怒哀怨 (xǐ nù āi yuàn). Out of the four emotions cited, only one pertains to happiness.

As an adjective, (xǐ) means being pleased or delighted. 欢喜 (huānxǐ delighted) and 高兴 (gāoxìng glad) are synonymous. 惊喜 (jīngxǐ) means being pleasantly surprised, or a pleasant surprise.

As a noun, (xǐ) refers to a happy event, such as a wedding, expecting a baby, or some other occasion for celebration. On plaques or banners displayed at a wedding, you may see two of this character joined together. That is not an official Chinese character, but a symbol to represent the auspicious event for the two families involved.

喜酒 (xǐjiǔ) is a wedding feast.

喜事 (xǐshì) is a happy event, such as a wedding or the arrival of a new baby.

喜气洋洋 (xǐqìyángyáng) is a phrase often used to describe a person sporting a jubilant aura, or a place that is filled with joy.

你看他红光满面, 喜气洋洋.
Nǐ kàn tā hóngguāngmǎnmiàn xǐqìyángyáng.
Look at him, glowing with a ruddy face and beaming with joy.

As a verb, (xǐ) means to like or to be fond of someone or something, as in 喜欢 (xǐhuān) or 喜爱 (xǐài)

喜剧 (xǐjù) is a comedy.

Tā xǐhuān kàn xǐjù.
She likes to watch comedies.

(xǐ auspiciousness, jubilation) has the same pronunciation as (xǐ), but mainly occurs in 恭贺新禧 (Gōnghèxīnxǐ Happy New Year) and 千禧年 (qiānxīnián the millennium).

(nù) is anger, indignation, or being angry. (hǒu) means to roar. Therefore, 怒吼 (nùhǒu) means to roar angrily.

动怒 (dòngnù) means the same as 生气 (shēngqì), i.e. to get angry or to lose one’s temper.

愤怒 (fènnù) is anger or indignation. This word can also be used as an adjective.

怒火 (nùhuǒ) likens fury to flames of fire.

Tā nùhuǒ chōngtiān.
He flared up.

恼羞成怒 (nǎoxiūchēngnù) means to be shamed into anger.

(āi) means sorrow, sadness, or being sad or cheerless. 哀伤 (āishāng), 哀痛 (āitòng) and 悲哀 (bēiāi) all mean being sad or sorrowful. These words can also be used as nouns. In everyday speech, the most commonly used word for being sad or brokenhearted is 伤心 (shāngxīn).

他听到那坏消息, 非常伤心.
Tā tīngdào nà huài xiāoxi, fēicháng shāngxīn.
He heard the bad news and was very sad.

悲观 (bēiguān) means pessimistic. 悲剧 (bēijù) is a tragedy.

Tā kàn bēijù huì diào yǎnlèi.
Watching a tragedy will make her weep.

哀号 (āiháo) is to wail or cry piteously.

哀求 (āiqiú) means to implore or entreat.

Nà fùnǚ āiqiú Suǒluómén Wáng bùyào shā nàge yīngér.
That woman begged King Solomon not to kill that baby.

(yuàn) means to resent, to complain, or being resentful. 抱怨 (bàoyuàn) and 埋怨 (mányuàn) mean to complain or to grumble.

怨言 (yuànyán) are complaints.

In formal Chinese, 佳偶 (jiāǒu) refers to a happily married couple, and 怨偶 (yuàn’ǒu) refers to an unhappy couple.

Granted that the world around us cannot be a rose garden every day, therefore it is up to us to look at the bright side of things. An optimist, or 乐观的人 (lèguān de rén), tends to hold a positive attitude toward life.

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