Unsolicited Endorsement: The Glossary of Happiness


Kudos to Emily Anthes and the New Yorker for bringing the Glossary of Happiness, also known as the Positive Lexicography Project, to our attention.

In short: there’s a long list of untranslatable happy words, compiled by word-nerd Tim Lomas, that lives on the internet for all of our benefit.

I read the whole thing, which is considerably easier than consuming the dictionary but just about as dorky. It’s full of things like an Arabic verb that means “to sit together in conversation at sunset / in the evening,” or an Inuit noun that means “anticipation one feels when waiting for someone and keeps checking if they’re arriving.” When you read a couple definitions like that, it’s easy to be sucked in, and then you find a term so fantastic that your time is more than justified. Words like “utepils,” which is Norwegian for “a beer that is enjoyed outside (particularly on the first hot day of the year),” or “schnapsidee,” which is German for “a daft/ridiculous plan thought up while drunk (generally used pejoratively).”

There are more food terms — a Dutch one that means “to relax satiated between courses or after a meal,” or a Georgian word for “eating past the point of satiety due to sheer enjoyment” as well as super mushy ones. Consider “mamihlapinatapei,” which is Yagán for “a look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire” or “cafune,” a Portuguese word meaning “the act/gesture of tenderly running one’s fingers through a loved one’s hair.”

I wish many of them existed in my native tongue, including a Portuguese word for “artful disentanglement (e.g. from trouble),” a Japanese noun for “freedom from habit, escape from the routine and conventional” or a Kivila term for “a truth that everyone knows but no-one talks about.” The world would probably be a better place with more “fargin” — that’s Yiddish for “ungrudging and overt (expressed) pride and happiness at other’s successes” as well as “arangiarsi” — Italian for “the ability to ‘make do’ or ‘get by.’”

A few terms celebrate collective spirit or unity, including “bayanihan” in Tagalong, while others are incredibly moody, such as a Japanese word for “the bittersweetness of a brief, fading moment of transcendent beauty” or “chrysalism,” which allegedly means “the amniotic tranquility of being indoors during a thunderstorm.”

I (somewhat foolishly) didn’t expect to see any English words on the list, and though a few greats are on there, I’d never come across any before. Have you ever seen the word “grok” or “lutilica” used? They apparently mean “to understand so thoroughly that observer becomes part of the observed” and “the part of your identity that doesn’t fit into categories” respectively.

There are a whole heap of words on Lomas’ list that I’d like an English counterpart for — and a few that already made the jump including bon vivant and nirvana — but maybe first I should put these newfangled English terms to use.