So unless you are Brazilian, Portuguese or reading the same book as me (which I’m loving, but I’ll come back to that) then you are probably thinking “What the heck is ‘saudade'”? Ask me two weeks ago and I wouldn’t have known either. But a couple of weeks ago I bought myself a copy of ‘The Atlas of Happiness’ by Helen Russell. She wrote a book called ‘The Year of Living Danishly’ a few years ago which I really enjoyed and I have read all of her non-fiction books since then. This most recent book, in her own words, is about “The global secrets of how to be happy.”. Broken down by country and written alphabetically, I am currently up to my lovely old ‘England’ and I have enjoyed learning about each and every preceding country. But the one that struck me most strongly was Brazil and ‘saudade’.
Again in Helen’s words, saudade is:
…a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia for a happiness that once was – or even a happiness that you merely hoped for.‘The Atlas of Happiness’ by Helen Russell (p. 24)
I’m certain we all know the feeling to a greater or lesser degree. And the reason that the few pages explaining about this Brazilian and Portuguese characteristic spoke to me was because this put a name to a feeling that I experience so, so, often. Ever since I can remember, I will easily find myself sitting and feeling that sense of nostalgia for a time past, or longing for something that can no longer be. It can be triggered by anything – a picture, a song, a smell or the weather. And depending on my mood or what is going on in my life, the feelings can consume me.
I don’t believe in fate, but there was certainly some good fortune in reading Helen’s words at the point that I did. The last few weeks I have been feeling very up-and-down because the end of my maternity leave looms ever closer. As I explained in my last post, Feeling mixed emotions, I am struggling to come to terms with soon leaving Little Z at nursery and returning to work. I am still finding a way to get my head round the fact these precious days I’ve had at home with Little Z, enjoying our own routine, are coming to a close. And next month I will back to the commute and the 3-day-a-week day job.
Reading about the Brazilian’s approach to these feelings – naming them and embracing them – has really helped me if I’m honest. As I lay reading in bed, it dawned on my that one of the reasons I am struggling with this imminent change is that I am feeling nostalgic for the baby days I’ve had with Little Z over the last year. That whilst I love her absolutely and completely as she is now, I also have a sense of longing for the tiny, wee baby she used to be. The same feelings are also echoed when looking at her sister who is days away from turning 4 years old. I look at her and wonder how she can suddenly be so big. She’s still the daughter I know and love but the small baby and terror-of-a-toddler I see in photos are also long gone to me now.
In the past, I have got frustrated with myself for letting these feelings overwhelm me. But going forward I’m going to take a more Brazilian approach to life. I am going to welcome the feelings, let my mind process them and then, hopefully, move on feeling more contented. I’m going to close with another quotation directly from the book as it’s sums it up better than I ever could:
The only way to avoid sadness and regret completely to by avoiding life – and we only appreciate the light if we’ve experienced shade. This is why saudade matters.‘The Atlas of Happiness’ by Helen Russell (p. 26)