Apr 09, 2019

Better words for happiness

Previously: What we talk about when we talk about life satisfaction

From Vox's Future Perfect email newsletter (email newsletters are undervalued!), by Sigal Samuel:

So what are the experiences we’re missing out on due to lack of exposure to foreign cultures’ concepts of well-being? Here are four examples I find especially useful:

1) The Sanskrit word ananda describes an imperturbable state of well-being, a spiritual bliss that is not conditional on your present worldly circumstances. In Hinduism and Buddhism, Lomas writes, “it is thought to arise when a person has developed sufficient ‘detachment’ [from things that will inevitably change] usually through spiritual practice.”

2) Ancient Greeks used the term philautia to describe a blend of self-esteem and self-compassion that they identified as a crucial component of the good life. As Lomas explains, “Aristotle argued philautia was the precondition for the other forms of love, and, if cultivated and deployed skillfully, constituted a sound basis for ethics.” The idea is that you cultivate self-love to make yourself better able to extend love to others.

3) The word dadirri, used in various Australian aboriginal languages, describes a respectful deep listening to the natural world, a receptive state that can be healing. “When I experience dadirri, I am made whole again,” explains one woman quoted by Lomas. “I can sit on the riverbank or walk through the trees; even if someone close to me has passed away, I can find my peace in this silent awareness.”

4) A huge part of psychological well-being comes down to relationships. In English, we’ve got words like sympathy and empathy to express how we relate to others. The Japanese have omoiyari, which some define as “altruistic sensitivity.” Lomas says the term indicates “intuitive awareness and understanding of others’ subjectivity,” and it goes beyond sympathy or empathy because it “conveys a commitment to altruistic action on the basis of this intuition.” You don’t just feel bad for someone – you act on it.