The Happiness of Words

I have talked about positive words and there are many words of happiness in different languages and cultures. There are expressions to be had of positivity, joy for others and of happiness in the moment. Happy, was first used in the 1520s, the word originally referred to good fortune and prosperity. The word for happy in most languages came from the word for lucky. This suggests that perhaps our ancestors believed that happiness was largely a by-product of luck. Words and expressions that mean extremely happy include ecstatic, elated, euphoric, jubilant, in seventh heaven, on cloud nine and over the moon. Over the next few months, for example, we can hope to delight in respair the unsung enemy of despair and which in the 16th century meant fresh hope and a recovery from despondency. And there is always confelicity the unselfish joy in someone else’s pleasure. And we should all aspire to be goodwill, which is well-disposed and benevolent towards others.

Tim Lomas, a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London and the writer of Happiness- Found in Translation, collects expressions of happiness from other languages. These words have no direct English equivalent, but they represent very precise emotional experiences that are at times neglected in our language. Many emotion words are already borrowed from other languages like French and Spanish but there are many more that have not yet found their way into our vocabulary. Do other languages talk about happiness better? Certainly, those words of the Mediterranean sound as sunny and soothing as their blue skies, sun and oceans. Perhaps, it’s a reflection of our national tendency towards pessimism and of a lifetime of rain and grey skies. A riffle through a historical English dictionary would suggest that the melancholy has always had the edge, linguistically speaking over happiness. But if this pessimism finds ample expression in the dictionary, the proof that exists that positive language can bring its own luck, has to be a sign to use more words of happiness in our life’s!

 I have listed some interesting examples of words from other countries below:

kǔ qù gān lái, the Chinese word describes the journey through pain to sweetness and relief. (We all need a dose of that at the moment) Happiness and melancholy do tend to go hand in hand in many cultures, the bitter-sweetness of a happiness that is destined to fade.

Mbuki-mvuki is the irresistible urge to “shuck off your clothes as you dance

 Kilig is the jittery fluttering feeling as you talk to someone you fancy.

Uitwaaien encapsulates the revitalising effects of taking a walk in the wind

Tarab from Arabic is a musically induced state of ecstasy or enchantment

Desbundar from Portuguese is to shed one’s inhibitions in having fun

Shinrin-yoku from Japan is the relaxation gained from bathing in the forest, figuratively or literally

Gigil is the irresistible urge to pinch or squeeze someone because they are loved or cherished

Yuan bei is Chinese for a sense of complete and perfect accomplishment

Iktsuarpok (Inuit) is the anticipation one feels when waiting for someone, whereby one keeps going outside to check if they have arrived

Sukha (Sanskrit) is the genuine lasting happiness independent of circumstances

Fjaka from Crotiais the sweetness of doing nothing

Sprezzatura– Italian for nonchalant effortlessness      

All these words both enrich and expand people’s own emotional worlds bringing positive feelings and experiences, showing the importance of language. And at the end of the day, who wouldn’t be interested in adding a bit more happiness to their own lives and why not I say?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s