While the theme of this year’s International Day of Happiness (March 20) is “Happiness For All, Together,” our ability to experience moments of joy can be limited by the words we use.
Although the English language consists of roughly a quarter million words, some pleasurable feelings can get lost in translation as linguists have long argued that language is the expression of a “social reality.”
“The understanding of a single poem, for instance, involves not merely an understanding of the single words in their average significance, but a full comprehension of the whole life of the community mirrored in the words,” American anthropologist-linguist Edward Sapir once wrote.
In an effort to overcome these cultural nuances for the concepts of joy and well-being, Tim Lomas launched in 2016 the Positive Lexicography Project to catalogue untranslatable words.
This crowdsourced glossary includes more than 1,000 expressions coming from some 140 languages across the world, enabling word lovers to expand their happiness-related vocabulary while increasing their emotional granularity.
Research has suggested that distinguishing between feelings in an extra-nuanced way is beneficial for both our mental and physical health.
While English speakers have increasingly incorporated foreign expressions like “je ne sais quoi” (French) or “hygge” (Danish/Norwegian) in their daily life, here is a selection of five words to adopt for 2020’s International Day of Happiness.
- “Utang na loob” is Tagalog for a state of gratitude that you experience when receiving a blessing or favour so great that it cannot be returned.
- “Mamihlapinatapai” which derives from the Yaghan language of Tierra del Fuegohas, is currently listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the “most succinct word.” It refers to a look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire.
- “Cynefin” is a Welsh term that describes the relationship one has to the place where one was born or brought up, also suggesting that one is naturally acclimatized to live in this specific environment.
- The word “Fernweh,” commonly used among German speakers, refers to the “call of faraway places,” similar to a feeling of homesickness for the unknown.
- “Salado” refers in Spanish to a likeable person who can insightfully find the humor in life in order to make people laugh.
To discover additional untranslatable words to expand your emotional vocabulary, make sure to watch the TED Talk of Tim Lomas below: