How Learning New Words Could Make You Happier

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How Learning New Words Could Make You Happier

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How Learning New Words Could Make You Happier


Excellent article from about learning new words and the effect on your overall self-esteem and well-being:

Tim Lomas, a lecturer in positive psychology at the University of East London — and a man who signs his emails “Best Wishes” — is […] analyzing all the types of well-being that he can possibly find. Specifically, Lomas is searching for psychological insights by collecting untranslatable words that describe pleasurable feelings we don’t have names for in English. “It’s almost like each one is a window onto a new landscape,” Lomas says of words like the Dutch pretoogjes, which describes the twinkling eyes of someone engaged in benign mischief.

So far, with the help of many contributors, Lomas has amassed nearly 1,000 terms in what he calls a “positive lexicography,” and he recently published a book on the project called Translating Happiness. It’s not very light reading; at its core, the book is an academic argument that Western-centric psychologists have much to learn by considering the ways that far-flung cultures speak and think about well-being. But the collection itself has universal appeal: In his book, Lomas describes each word as an invitation for people to experience happy phenomena that may previously have been “unfamiliar to or hidden from them.”

There is widespread obsession with untranslatable words, as countless listicle-makers can attest. Why do we find these items so entrancing? They’re novel, for one. Untranslatable words can give us the sublime feeling one enjoys when briefly comprehending the size of the universe, reminding us that there are infinite perspectives to have and that there is a depth to things that we might not be comprehending. They can provide catharsis, crystallizing a hazy sentiment the same way a good dictionary definition does. They’re also useful: How could we talk to each other about the guilty pleasure of schadenfreude without schadenfreude or the bizarre disorientation of déjà vu without déjà vu?

By having a name at the ready, we may be more capable of recognizing and reveling in the good things, trivial and grand, better than if we vaguely described the concept. Life is “just this great diffused river of sensations and stimuli. It’s hard to pin things down,” Lomas says, “but if I have a label for it, it’s slightly easier to grab hold of a passing feeling.”

You can read the rest of the article here.