What Does Happiness Look Like Around the World?

An inspiring linguistics project is gathering the positive words that can help us all be a little happier.

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Posted in , Aug 1, 2019

Happiness Around the World

In 2015, Tim Lomas, a positive psychology lecturer at the University of London, was attending a positive psychology conference in Florida when he encountered a talk about sisu, the Finnish word for “extraordinary determination/courage, especially in the face of adversity.”

There’s no real English translation for sisu, Lomas recognized. Nor is there for taarradhin (Arabic for “a positive agreement/solution/compromise where everybody wins”), anam cara (Gaelic for “soul friend; a deep, heartfelt friendship, often with a spiritual dimension”), or shê dé (Chinese for “to be willing and/or able to part with something or let go”).

English has many words that describe positivity, joy, happiness, peace, and love. But it’s only when we explore the global vocabulary that we understand how much we have to learn from each other when it comes to positive language—and living.

The Positive Lexicography Project Lomas started in 2015 is now a vibrant, ever-growing index of positive words organized by language (132 of them) and themes grouped under broad categories ranging from relationships to feelings to character. Lomas has published two books on the subject—Translating Happiness and The Happiness Dictionary.

Online, the project is free to search, and rich with inspiration that can give you a boost or get you thinking in a new way about what positivity can look like in your life. It might even inspire some changes in your vocabulary. As Lomas told The New Yorker  in 2016, “If you just put [words] out there and people are aware of them, then—almost like linguistic natural selection—people will find ones that appeal to them, and they might start using them.”

Some words might be closer to home than you think, like novaturient, which though derived from Latin, is an English word meaning, “the desiring or seeking of strong changes in one’s behavior or situation.”

Anyone pursuing a positive path in life knows that feeling. Now you have a word to describe it.

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