Happiness in the Untranslatable Wordsby Shruthi Venkatesh May 10 2018, 5:20 pm Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins, 50 secs
It is said that Tim Lomas, a lecturer at the University of East London signs his emails with “Best Wishes” in order to find the various types of well-being. With the help of many contributors, Lomas has managed to gather around 1000 terms for what he calls it as a ‘positive lexicography’ and also published a book called ‘Translating Happiness’. In it he describes that each word appears as an invitation for people to experience a happy phenomenon that may have been previously unfamiliar to them. He further unfolds that the limits of our language are said to define the boundaries of our world. This is because in our everyday lives, we can only really register and make sense of what we can name. We are restricted by the words we know, which shapes what we can and cannot experience.
Source : T.Lomos-Hachette Australia
Lomas talks about the feelings we experience but didn’t or never thought to name. Such experience occurs with the feeling of confidence when one gets to wear new attire and the satisfaction when one gets to sit on a bouncy cushion. It is true that sometimes we may have brief sensations that we don’t have a name for. Hence, without a word to label such sensations or feelings, they are often over-looked and refused to be remembered. If we lack a word for a particular positive emotion, we are far less likely to experience it and even if we somehow experience it we are unlikely to discover it with clarity.
It is exciting to know that learning new words or new concept could almost enrich us into a new emotional world. So as in theory, we may enhance our experience of happiness by exploring language. Lomas believes dogs and babies could also experience the sensations as we do even though they lack words for them. He presents a study in which children who were taught new words to describe emotion, showed much improvement in behaviour and academics. The study proved that it is possible when words give us a great ability to differentiate feelings; we become more capable of understanding and regulating them.
Untranslatable words can feel like whispered secrets from other cultures. Lomas defined hygge- a Danish word as “a deep sense of place, warmth, friendship and contentment.” If we try to exploit untranslatable words or if we use them carelessly, there may be some danger of cultural appropriation. On reading the words in his collections, Katy Steinmetz, a reporter at TIME says, it shows a way where we can feel good even though holding concentration while reading his books is a hard thing to do. Of them, Lomas lists outs some of his favourites such as ‘Fernweh’- which describes craving to travel to distant lands, a kind of homesickness. Also ‘Morgenfrisk’- a Danish word which describes the satisfaction one gets from a good night’s sleep.
People can think of happiness as something as superficial as the not taking seriously the darkness and the sufferings of the world. Lomas states, “But while we recognize that is there, we also do need to notice things around us that can lift us and help us and shine a light.” And that could be just finding the right word!