International Day of Happiness 2019: Words from around the world to describe the many different types of happiness

Edwina Langley

When something good happens, how do you feel?

Happy, right? That seems like the obvious response, but is it really the right word to use?

Happy is a state of being most of us aspire to and one we claim to feel in all-manner of situations. We are happy when we fall in love. We are happy when we get married. And happy when we get a new job. Or find a lost possession. Or when it's lunchtime... Does one word really describe all these experiences?

Wellbeing psychologist Dr. Tim Lomas doesn't think so. Indeed, he believes that in many ways the English language falls short when it comes to describing the nuances inherent in happiness. Sometimes, there simply aren't the words.

Only, there are - just not in a language we understand.

"Even if English has not created a word for a specific feeling, another language probably has," writes Lomas in his new book 'The Happiness Dictionary'. "These are known as 'untranslatable words', because they lack an exact equivalent in another language."

Through his delightful compendium, Lomas guides readers through some of those 'untranslatable words'. In chapters based on various aspects of happiness – contentment, for example, pleasure, love, connection - he presents a comprehensive list of vocabulary by incorporating words from around the world.

Take, for instance, the Dutch word, 'pretoogjes'. This describes 'the twinkling eyes of benign humour' – laughter behind the eyes of someone who engages in 'good-humoured mischief'.

Or the Greek word, 'meraki'. It means 'ardour for one's own actions and creations'; to complete a task with love, such as, to cook with meraki or darn your child's clothes.

How else might us Brits describe such experiences? Probably as making us - merely - 'happy'.

So, what is the purpose of discovering these new words? Lomas argues that in so doing, "the boundaries of our world expand accordingly".

"These words allow us to give voice to feelings that we've probably experienced but have previously lacked the ability to conceptualise," he writes. "They may even allows us to encounter new feelings that we hadn't previously been aware of or enjoyed."

If you would like to expand your understanding and experience of happiness, keep reading...



Justified pride in one's achievements

Have you ever completed a Herculean task and just been glad you did it? If so, you've probably felt 'fiero'.

Whilst in its home country, this Italian word is often associated with 'pride' or 'arrogance', psychologist Paul Ekman describes is as "the enjoyment felt when you have met a challenge that stretched your capabilities".

"This captures the essence of 'fiero'," writes Lomas, "realising your potential rather than achieving a perfect outcome."

He continues: "Ekman evidently views 'fiero' as justifiable pride rather than arrogance. But that begs the question: why didn't he simply use the English term?"

He posits this is because pride often has negative connotations. 'Fiero', however, is very different from the 'unearned vanity' often associated with pride.

It comes from "putting your heart and soul into a worthwhile endeavour and succeeding against the odds".

Did you complete the London marathon? And did it make you feel happy? Yes, but it was probably 'fiero' you felt.



A drink enjoyed outside

It's a hot day today and you're counting down the minutes before you knock off work, head down the pub, and take that first sip of ice cold beer or rose in the sunshine.

We might describe this in a rather long-winded fashion like 'a happy after-work drink outside'. Whereas this is a pleasure the Norweigans describe, simply, as an 'utepils'.

Why not suggest it today to your colleagues: "Utepils after work anyone?".



Star-crossed destiny

As Lomas notes, most star-crossed lovers we might cite - Romeo and Juliet, Heathcliff and Cathy - find themselves embroiled in tragedy: "the all-consuming love leads inexorably to a heartbreaking conclusion," he notes.

He goes on to explain, however, that such destined love doesn't have to be 'inevitably tragic'. Think of Lizzy and Mr. Darcy, or Ross and Rachel, Noah and Allie, Harry and Sally...

Anake is a Greek word which describes a "binding force or necessity which the classical Greeks knew could not be resisted" says Lomas. In effect, it is 'written in the stars', inescapable love.

As Lomas explains, "Simonides wrote 'Even the Gods don't fight against anake'. Powerful forces that lie far beyond our control determine when - or whether - we meet our soulmate."



A sociable coffee break

This is a Swedish practice, observed during the working day. Fika means 'a sociable coffee break' - but it's no coffee break as we know it. It's not: trudging to the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil, exchanging civilities with a nearby colleague, and then trudging back to your desk.

Fika is an opportunity to 'pause and reconnect each day' and it occurs twice daily (usually 10am and 3pm). As Lomas explains, it's that 'water-cooler moment', only scheduled. (And what could make you more happy than that?)



Flourishing and living life to the full

'Eduaimonia', an Ancient Greek word, encompasses all the themes Lomas explores in his book. This includes - he writes - "learning to be content with our lot; accepting situations calmly; revelling in pleasure; loving and being loved; connecting and living in communication with others; savouring the beauty that graces our lives; welcoming the full spectrum of human emotions, including those that are bittersweet; understanding the world and our place within it; gaining some conception of the sacred; and being a good person while always striving to be a better one."

Basically, it's an impressive word. May we all strive to achieve it.

The Happiness Dictionary by Dr. Tim Lomas is published by Piatkus, RRP £14.99, available to buy here.