Do You Experience More Ennui or Joie de Vivre?

This is the second installment in our Just for Fun Friday series on Emotion Words Around the World. And we have hit on what we think is a great prize for the best comment. Whoever comes up with the best story about our emotion word or words of the day will get a free e-book.

Yay! Who’s gonna turn down a free book, right?

Today we explore the deeper meanings of two French terms, ennui and joie de vivre. These may very well be words you’ve heard before, since they are often used in English as well. But just as often something gets lost in their translation.

Ennui is defined in English dictionaries as boredom and listlessness. Well, yeah, but in French it means a bit more than that. It often connotes a certain level of dissatisfaction with life, and maybe even an unwillingness to do anything about being bored. When someone is suffering from ennui they are mired down in a weariness and discontent that may be hard to shake. Indeed, the root of the word, from old French, means annoyance. So there’s a certain amount of low-grade irritability involved. The word is not synonymous with depression, but it is describing the feelings that we often experience when we are mildly depressed.

(photo by Jessica Mullen, CC 2.0 license, Wikimedia Commons)

Let’s contrast ennui with bored:

American teenager (with slouched shoulders and glazed-over look on face): “Mother, I am sooo bored!”

French teenager (with head thrown back, eyes closed, back of hand against forehead): “Maman, j’ai ennui!

American teenager isn’t annoyed so much as she is annoying–to her mother. French teenager, you’re starting to worry she’ll become suicidal. Either that or you want to enroll her in drama school.

Now joie de vivre on the other hand, does translate more directly into English–joy of living. And yet we Americans never say that. We don’t walk around saying, “I’m feeling joy of living today.” But it is okay to say, “I’m full of joie de vivre today.” Why is that?

My best guess is that because we’re not too comfortable with public displays of intense emotions in this country, it is somehow more acceptable to express feeling crazy happy with life via a French expression. That’s okay, because you know those French, they’re an emotional lot.

I’m a fairly intense person (just ask my husband; he’ll be happy to tell you all about my mood swings), so I feel both ennui and joie de vivre a good bit.

For me, ennui is definitely not simple boredom. I rarely experience boredom, except in doctors’ waiting rooms when I forget my kindle. But some days I do have ennui. Not because I have nothing to do; au contraire, I usually have too much to do on those days. And yet I don’t feel like doing any of the things I should be doing. For me, ennui is a vague, itchy-in-my-own-skin restlessness combined with a not-quite-depressed-but-definitely-less-than-happy feeling.

Needless to say, I’m not fond of ennui.

Joie de vivre, on the other hand, is wonderful. It’s chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and a cherry on top!

(photo by Zachariah Judy, CC 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

(And nuts. I forgot to mention the nuts! Because what would life be without a few nuts in it, right?)

Even though I’m not a morning person, I most often feel joie de vivre early in the day (maybe because I’m not all that tired yet). And it’s not usually associated with something spectacularly wonderful that’s happening in my life. I most often feel it when I’m driving somewhere in the morning or early afternoon–usually to someplace relatively mundane, like the grocery store or Zumba class. I’ll get this light, bubbly feeling in my chest and I’ll just feel happy to be alive!

How about you? When do you tend to feel either ennui or joie de vivre, and how would you describe your experience of those feelings?

Remember the most interesting (or funniest) comment will get you a free e-book. And you get to choose from any of the books put out by our misterio press authors. So make something up it good!

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

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  • Reply
    K.B. Owen
    March 22, 2013 at 10:33 am

    I don’t qualify for the contest (being a Misterio gal), but I get those mood swings sometimes, Kass! I suppose it’s pretty common. I’m wondering if it’s super-happy feelings more than super-sad feelings that aren’t okay to express. Just an impression. Almost as if you’d be considered immature to express a joie de vie feeling in public – like it would be akin to a little kid squealing and jumping up and down. But what the heck, life is short: shouldn’t we be squealing and jumping up and down when the feeling strikes?

    Have a great weekend,

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      March 22, 2013 at 11:25 am

      LOL Good point, Kathy. As someone who sometimes does jump up and down and squeal in public I will tell you that it gets you plenty of strange looks. Some people smile; others edge away in fear!

      There also seems to be a stereotype that bubbly people are not very bright, but that’s another post perhaps. 😀

  • Reply
    shannon esposito
    March 22, 2013 at 11:24 am

    These seem to be the two extremes I exist in. You’re right, the ennui feeling usually comes, not when I’m bored (can readers ever get bored?) but when I’m overwhelmed by all the little tasks life demands. I usually try to hide with a book at these times and wait until it passes. I think I’ve hid this whole!

    I definitely felt joie de vivre at the last writing conference. Giddy with life 🙂

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      March 22, 2013 at 11:30 am

      Yes, that was a fabulous weekend at the Florida Mystery Writers conference.

      Giddy with life! That actually does capture the joie de vivre concept, Shannon. And reading is an excellent cure for ennui in my book (no pun intended). 🙂

    • Reply
      Kirsten Weiss
      March 22, 2013 at 11:52 pm

      Absolutely! Ennui is a product of feeling overwhelmed for me, too. Would like to feel more moments of joie de vivre

      • Reply
        Kassandra Lamb
        March 23, 2013 at 10:42 am

        It’s really frustrating, isn’t it, Kirsten? Just when you need to be the most energized and motivated, you don’t feel like doing anything!

  • Reply
    Marcy Kennedy
    March 22, 2013 at 11:24 am

    This is a fun post for Friday!

    I most often feel joie de vivre on summer evenings, when the sun is starting to set, but the mosquitoes aren’t out yet, and the air cools down just enough to be that perfect temperature. The air seems fresher then, and I have these moments where I gulp in deep breathes because I just can’t seem to get enough. I wouldn’t describe it as bubbles in my chest. It’s more the feeling that I have so much happy inside it’s going to split me open.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      March 22, 2013 at 11:32 am

      Whoa, love that description, Marcy! I could feel the cool breeze. And I can definitely relate to the ‘going to split open from happiness’ feeling.

  • Reply
    Kim Terry
    March 23, 2013 at 8:57 am

    When I walk out of my second class on Thursday night, three-day weekend ahead. Joie de vivre coming up!

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      March 23, 2013 at 10:39 am

      Oh, yeah, I can definitely relate, Kim! As much as I loved teaching, that bubbly feeling was definitely there driving home from my last class of the week. And words to the effect of, “I’m free! I’m free!” would often be running through my head. LOL

  • Reply
    March 23, 2013 at 10:09 am

    I feel a certain joie de vivre nearly every day this semester when I go to campus to teach the class I am teaching. I love the students. They are all very good and lively and responsive. On the other hand, I have had classes that gave me a feeling of ennui when they were the complete opposite of what I have now: unresponsive, glum, difficult to deal with.
    Sometimes I can turn a feeling of ennui into more of a feeling of joie de vivre when I go to work out. I used to do that a lot when I was a runner, but these days I can’t run so I work out at a local gym instead. Once the workout is over, I usually regain my joie de vivre.

    • Reply
      Kassandra Lamb
      March 23, 2013 at 10:54 am

      Again, I can relate, Tom. The synergy of a particular class has a lot to do with whether or not that class energizes or drains the teacher.

      And that’s a really good point about exercising; doing something physically active is an excellent way to get ourselves revved up and turn ennui back toward joie de vivre.

  • Reply
    Kassandra Lamb
    March 26, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    Oops, I forgot to announce the winner! Marcy won this one hands down with her lovely description of joie de vivre on summer evenings. She has really raised the bar here, folks! So bring your best descriptive talents with you for our next round, which will be in a couple weeks.

    Thanks, everybody, for participating. I had fun with this. Hope you did too!

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