My Daily Hit Of Squee Dopamine
Updated: Aug 1, 2018
What is that sensation I feel while having morning cuddles with my cat? I had no idea, so I decided to find out.
I'm not much of a morning person, but by chance over past few years I have developed the perfect routine to ease myself into the day that beats repeatedly punching the alarm clock's snooze button. After getting out of bed and tending to a few minor chores, I return to bed, cup of tea in hand followed by my cat, Millie, who is beside herself with joy for two reasons; 1) her human has finally let her into the bedroom, and 2) her human is wearing 'comfy jumper' which seems to possess magical cat-hypnotising powers.
Millie is a good natured cat but not one for overt displays of affection, except that is, when 'comfy jumper' is on. Barely before I have had the chance to sit comfortably, she jumps onto my stomach and goes into meltdown; purring, nuzzling into the crook of my elbow, and running her lips over the nobbles and bobbles of the chunky weave. It is so utterly adorable. After about 15 minutes she has settled down to sleep and the bed becomes her domain for the rest of the day.
Just what is that sensation? Until recently I simply enjoyed our cuddles; noting the wonderfully melty yet excitable sensations that flickered through me. Gradually it had become a part of life, almost a daily therapy before facing the day.
On days at home, I begun to notice that every time I took a break, I would wonder where Millie was and that same fluttery sensation would return. I never needed to search far. Sure enough, I would find her on the bed curled up under the covers in a tight ball looking very much like a hibernating dormouse. Every time I would fight the overwhelming urge to scoop her up and smoosh my face into her soft fur, run my lips over the short downy hair behind her ears, and inhale a deep breath of clean fur tinged with the scent of fresh laundry and featherdown duvet. However, instead of giving into my instinct, I would simply observe with satisfaction the off-the-scale cuteness - balling up my fists and shaking them in delight whilst wearing an expression that was somewhere between pain and excitement. Millie of course was always utterly oblivious as she lay there letting out tiny nose-whistles from under the paw she often has draped across her face.
What was this emotion that rendered me weak at the knees from simply looking at something so cute?
It wasn't exactly excitement, it wasn't exactly just joy or delight or satisfaction; so what exactly was it?
Adoration didn't cut it either and I begun to realise that there was an intense feeling I was experiencing on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, which I simply had no word for.
This intense emotion deserves its own word It never fails to amaze me that despite the number of words there are in the English language, we still have gaps in our vocabulary for some of our more nuanced feelings – ones we may actually feel much more regularly than plain ol' 'happiness', 'anger' etc.
It isn't satisfying to me to simply combine a load of words that I do know, say 30% excitement, 20% pure joy, 20% love, 20% giddyness, 10% frustration, and boom: that's what I'm feeling. This sensation deserves it's own word.
Understanding and being able to define our emotions through language plays a large part of developing emotional intelligence. It enables us to communicate more effectively and ultimately lead more satisfying lives. As part of my resolution to get to know myself better, I made it my mission to understand this particular feeling and find a word for it.
It turns out this is a question which many people ask Google. Remarkably, it's also an extremely common addictive sensation people seek out in the form of gazing at fluffy creatures on the internet. There has even been a study by students at Yale University who used the term 'cuteness aggression' to describe the conflicting and intense emotions that some people feel when been exposed to something they find extremely adorable.
There are also numerous articles on why getting a frequent dose of cute critters is good for our mental health and productivity. In short, it appears that my need for a hit of cuteness is my brain seeking a satisfying fix of dopamine – the same chemical that is released when eating chocolate, taking exercise and having a hug. So this means that after a cup of tea and Millie's cuteness, I am able to go and be more productive.
I now understood the origins of this emotion but I still needed a word to more accurately describe it.
Whilst there were some languages with more specific terms for the overwhelm caused by extreme cuteness ('gigil' in the Philippines, 'kawaii' in Japanese), it seems the best the English language can do is the word 'squee' or 'awwww'.
Squee is actually in the Oxford English Dictionary defined as a “squeal of delight and excitement”, which over the years has become the adopted internet word for cuteness overload. Sadly, for me, it's far from the perfect word. The fact that both squee and awwww are onomatopoeic words which describe the noises made when feeling those sensations (rather then the sensation itself), is somewhat disappointing. It's like trying to define a word like 'happy' and coming up with 'gigglement'. I guess I was hoping to stumble across a more succinct word such as 'cutestasy' or 'gleemusement'. On the bright side however, at least squee is gaining enough popularity for others to understand what you mean when you say it.
I wonder if squee is what Millie is hunting for every time she circles through my office in her endless pursuit for the next comfy jumper fix......
Do you find looking at cute animals, or even experiences with your own pets give you more motivation during your day? Do you have any words for that sensation? We would love to hear your stories in the comments section below.