Meet kama muta, the global, cross-cultural mood of being joyfully emotional


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Photo: Getty Images/Sally Anscombe

Have you ever been in a scenario where no word in the English language or any other (as far as you’re aware) effectively communicates how you’re feeling? For instance, I recently struggled to find a word to describe the emotionally charged heartwarming sense I felt when while my friend belted Marilyn Manson’s “The Beautiful People” at a bar and my boyfriend came up behind me with a surprise chicken nugget. “Heartwarming” didn’t feel strong enough to encapsulate the big mood in which I was gloriously basking. So when I recently happened upon the sanskrit phrase kama muta, which essentially refers to being moved by love, I felt seen. And what’s especially sweet is that this term and what it represents, found nowhere in English, is something that connects people on a global level.

One massive study of 3,542 participants from more than 19 countries who spoke 15 languages worked to identify and define what kama muta means cross-culturally, across the world. The results showed that it reflects a positive vibe evoked from watching or experiencing sudden and communal intense social interactions that might, say, move you to tears. This could be with anyone or anything—a parent, a partner, a YouTube video of a recently widowed grandpa getting a puppy, the puppy itself, a breaded nug of chicken, you get the idea. The emphasis is that you’re sharing an experience to joyful, and soul-stirring effects. If you’re still not sure if what you’re feeling is kama muta, five common physical aspects of the term can clear things up: misty eyes or tears, chills, feeling choked up or having a lump in the throat, buoyancy, exhilaration, and (you guessed it) a warm feeling in the chest.

Say you’re getting verklempt because your work wife brought you a matcha latte or you’re hand-over-heart overwhelmed because your out-of-town bestie booked a ticket to visit for your birthday. That’s kama muta.

Still unfamiliar? Say you’re getting verklempt because your work wife brought you a matcha latte or you’re hand-over-heart overwhelmed because your out-of-town bestie booked a ticket to visit for your birthday. That’s kama muta. Oh, and if you’ve ever started crying because of an adorable video of a baby seal, that is hella kama muta; one study even supports that kama muta intensifies when you experience a cuteness overload. Basically, this gif of Kristen Bell learning she’s about to meet a sloth encapsulates everything you need to know about kama muta.

The term is great because it names that positive overemotional run-in so many of us experience all the time. We have enough names for negative stuff, like new, awful dating trends, so let’s focus on calling out the good stuff by identifying kama muta when we feel it. The internet has allowed for a lot of garbagey stuff to happen, but it’s also provided a wealth of stories that allow for nothing but a surplus of warm fuzzies—so let’s celebrate those wins.

And really, could it be more beautiful that the word reflects a global experience of people being touched by love? Didn’t think so. I’m just glad that I can now finally express the combination of my heart being warm (like after seeing chicken nuggets), and full, (like after eating chicken nuggets). Sorry, just getting a little choked up.

Looking for more fun terms to expand your wellness vocabulary? Learn about sisu, the Finnish concept of perseverance, and hygge, our Danish word for nesting and resting.

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