By now many people are familiar with the term solastalgia, meaning “the pain one feels when the place where one lives and that one loves is under immediate assault.” Australian philosopher and activist Glenn Albrecht coined the word by combining the Latin solacium (“comfort”) with the Greek root algia (“pain”). He has also called solastalgia “a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at home.”
By identifying this very particular kind of mental pain, solastalgia gives credence to emotions that used to be dismissed as “tree hugging” or mere “sentimentality.” The concept has become the subject of art exhibitions and songs and is beginning to serve as a tool in court cases in which communities are fighting incursions by industry.
Albrecht has also defined several symptoms of solastalgia. “Psychoterratic illness” is mental unease related to loss of place; “somaterratic illness” describes physical problems related to toxicity in the air, water, and soil; and “eco-paralysis” is the feeling that one is powerless to do anything to prevent or ameliorate the ongoing attack on one’s home. In his new book, Earth Emotions, Albrecht not only delves into these concepts, he also introduces words for the positive emotions people feel about place.
For example, Ghedeist (pronounced ge-DICED) is awareness of the underlying force that holds things together, “a secular feeling of interconnectedness in life between the self and other beings.” Endemophilia, formed from the Greek words endemia (a “dwelling in”) and philia (“love”), means love of a distinct and particular place. And sumbiophilia means the love of living together. The latter word, Albrecht points out, reminds us that love of life entails more than connection with an ecosystem, we are also intertwined with other living organisms.
We are entering a phase of life on Earth, Albrecht argues, and as we do so, we must engage emotionally in new ways. Charting and cultivating positive emotions ad treating the negative ones will be vital to how we adapt—and survive.