Happiness, Linguistically Speaking

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I’m a hopeless romantic. At least when it comes to languages, I am. Or, you know, so I’m told. (Cough) By my, you know, legion of fans. (Cough, cough, cough)

Writing for that rag (thank you, Donnie T.!) otherwise known as The New Yorker, Emily Anthes (@EmilyAnthes) wrote a great article called “The Glossary of Happiness.” I’ve written before on the wonder and magic connected to what I believe is mankind’s greatest invention, language, but in this particular piece by Ms. Anthes, she goes into detail about University of East London’s Tim Lomas (@drtimlomas), a lecturer in positive psychology, and his Positive Lexicography Project.

What in blue balls is a “lexicography project”? As always, reader, that is a fine and dandy question full of vim and vigour.

In a nut-filled nutshell, Mr. Lomas began compiling a dictionary last year of terms from languages other than English – and with a stress on languages from non-Western ideas and experiences – that have interesting words to describe some positive act, belief, event, or state of mind. The aim is to “develop a more cross-cultural view of well-being.”

Let me highlight some of my favourite inclusions that have made the final cut.

ilunga (Tshiluba): being ready to forgive a first time, tolerate a second time, but never a third time

mamihlapinatapei (Yagán) a look between people that expresses unspoken but mutual desire

tarab (Arabic) musically induced ecstasy or enchantment

queesting: (Dutch) to allow a lover access to one’s bed for chitchat (ha ha ha…chitchat…will have to explore what “chitchat” means in Dutch)

utepils (Norwegian) a beer that is enjoyed outside . . . particularly on the first hot day of the year (Note: How we as Canadian don’t have a word like this is shameful. We should languish and rot like a rotten tomato for such an oversight. The only terms I can think of that’ are relatively close are “patio season” or, apropos of this weekend, “May two-four”)

However, Mr. Lomas isn’t just doing this because putting together dictionaries is obviously a fun, funny and funly pastime. He’s more concerned about linguistic relativity, which “posits that language itself – the specific tongue that we happen to speak – shapes our thoughts and perceptions.” As Ms. Anthes writes:

Those who believe in linguistic determinism, the strictest version, might argue that a culture that lacks a term for a certain emotion—a particular shade of joy or flavor of love—cannot recognize or experience it at all. Lomas, like many modern linguists, rejects that idea, but believes that language affects thought in more modest ways. Studying a culture’s emotional vocabulary, he said, may provide a window into how its people see the world.

Thus, the conservative high priests of linguistic determination might say that because the Japanese don’t really have a word like “love” – as in “I love you” – and instead use the word daisuki (大好き) – as in “I like you” – that they are unable to experience this feeling the same way we do in countries like Australia, Canada, Fiji and the U.S., for example.

(As a sidebar, this is exactly what so fascinated me and formed the core theme of a short story of mine called “The Language of Love.”)

On the flip side of the proverbial coin, there is no direct translation from Korean to English for the word han (한), a derivative from Chinese (恨), and which refers to deep, deep, deep suffering/regret/resentment. It is, in my opinion, the most important word to describe ethnic Korean culture on the Korean Peninsula, but we simply don’t have a single word to wrap this one up in and tie neatly with a bow on top.

Does that mean that I, as a native English speaker from the Great White North, cannot understand this feeling or experience of han? After spending a quarter of my life living in Korea, I’d say no, I really don’t. I know pain, I know suffering, I know loss, but I don’t feel han the same way a Korean born and raised in Mokpo, for example, does.

Alternatively, that same go-getter from Mokpo cannot linguistically understand the way in which I “love” because our noun/verb version of this word is so malleable that in English we can “love” our spouse, our parents, a piece of gum, philosophy, TV shows, God, cold winter nights, and warm summer days. In Korean, you only get to use sarang (사랑) as a noun and saranghada (사랑하다) as a verb with sentient beings, and usually just with human beings at that.

So, is happiness tied to our ability to express this emotion linguistically? Saint Bonaventure is famous for once saying, “amor est magis cognitivus quam cognition,” which translates roughly into “We know things better through love than through knowledge.”

Perhaps the Kenyans don’t have as many words for “snow” as do the Inuit of Nunavut, but I’m pretty sure they’re sensible enough to know that it’s probably not a good idea to sleep on top of any kind of snow without some kind of shelter. At the same time, I’m not a Buddhist, I’m not ethnically Korean, and 한국어 is not my first language, but this deep into the ballgame otherwise known as life I sure as s*** know what sorrow and regret feel like when blended together like a tornado, even if we don’t have the perfect word in English to convey this emotion.

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Judge a Book by Its Cover! (And Don’t Feel Bad about It)

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Yeah, right. Worst. Idiom. Ever. That’s like saying, Don’t judge a person by their personality! Don’t judge a criminal by their criminal record, especially if it includes multiple convictions of murder and hate crimes. Ooh ooh ooh! And don’t judge a meal by its taste.


In a piece for Writer Unboxed, a site dedicated to the craft and business of writing fiction, Erika Liodice (@erikaliodice) penned a great piece titled “How to Create a Book Cover That Connects with Readers,” adding more credence to the fact that “Don’t judge a book by its cover” should be removed from the pantheon of dumbass English phrases.

Ms. Liodice’s post is definitely worth reading, even if you’re not planning to publish your own book, as it offers excellent advice about the creative process from start to finish. Maybe you’re like my brother, who runs his own sheep farming business and needed a catchy logo for his beloved sheep. Perhaps you’re designing your own website and need homepage artwork. The point is, this piece is worth reading in its entirety, so I’ll just highlight the eight main points below to whet your palate.

Step 1: Understand what works (and what doesn’t)

Step 2: Find the perfect image (or curate your own)

Step 3: Plan your design

Step 4: Prioritize your information

Step 5: Develop a creative brief

Step 6: Hire the right designer

Step 7: Draw up a contract

Step 8: Get feedback

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10 Ways to Upgrade Your Social Media Toolbox

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I know what you’re thinking: Why would I post a subway map on a site that is clearly not dedicated to subways or maps. That is a good and fine question. For those of you who took a cursory glance at the above image, you may have thought it was the Tokyo subway system printed in English. That is a good and fine hypothesis. But it’s wrong.

Penny Sansevieri (@Bookgal), CEO & founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc., is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert who posted a piece entitled “10 Great New Social Media Tools for Indie Authors” a couple of months ago. I’m just getting around to it now. I know, I know, I know. But I’m, like, you know, like totally crazy busy and, like, super-duper popular, so…you know, it’s just been, like, really hard to keep up with my recreational subw…err…social media maps.

I’ll let Ms. Sansevieri do the heavy lifting on this one, as the 10 tools she mentions are way past my pay grade. However, for those of you more tech-savvy – the veritable social media heavy hitters – do take a moment to go over the above post if you want to up your marketing game, especially if you’re an indie author, through a medium that will, as Ms. Sansevieri states, “still be important for quite some time.”

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Quote of the Day

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“The mature person eventually forgives his parents. Any adult can look back and see childhood wrongs and unfairness. Many of us were disappointed by our parents, even neglected or hurt by them. We certainly didn’t get all we wanted or needed. Yet, upon joining the ranks of adults, we become responsible for ourselves. Every situation has limited choices, and we work with what we’ve got. As adults, we realize this is exactly where our parents were when we were children. They, too, were born into an imperfect world and had to do the best they could.

When we can forgive our parents, we are free to accept them as they are, as we might a friend. We can accept them, enjoy the relationship, and forget about collecting old debts. Making peace with them imparts to us the strengths of previous generations and helps us be more at peace with ourselves.”

Touchstones: A Book of Daily Meditations for Men, Anonymous

I’m not sure why meditations like the one above are for men alone, but it’s poignant nonetheless. If only I could find that dastardly Anonymous! I think he was a Greek philosopher. Or maybe a Roman senator. Come to think of it, wasn’t he the first drummer for Guns n’ Roses?

Whatever the case, good ol’ Anonymous has hit on something important. Like the Sphinx riddle*, there seems to be three stages to how we view our parents in life. In childhood, we love them unconditionally. As a young, immature adult, we blame them for all of our problems and deficiencies. It’s only as a mature adult that we come to realize they are no different than ourselves and that compassion, empathy and understanding are the only way to rebuild bridges between us that were inevitably strained in our darker, weaker moments.


* “What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?”  (Man – as a baby, an adult, and an elderly person)

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The First 3 Hours

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Perhaps I’m showing my age (and the fact that I don’t have children), but I actually fly out of bed most mornings, which is usually between 3-5 a.m. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to appreciate the early early morning time. The streets are quiet, nobody’s using their stupid leaf blower or lawn mower, the birds are chirping (at least they are at this time of year), and I get a serious amount of s*** done in a very short period of time.

Srinivas Rao agrees with me and takes it one step further. In a piece titled “The First 3 Hours of Your Day Can Dictate How Your Life Turns Out,” Srinivas argues that “I get a disproportionate amount of value from these hours, and it’s not a coincidence.”

True, truer and truest!

To be Frank, Earnest and Curt, a lot of us are slaves to others from the moment we wake up, assuming this is around 7 a.m., a pretty standard time for students and workers to roll out of bed. We’re slaves to crying babies, hungry kids/pets, pending deadlines, rush hour traffic, unresolved household issues – the list is endless, really.

But for those of us who wake up at an ungodly hour, just having those couple of extra hours to ourselves can be a godsend. As Srinivas details in the above piece, this is due to the following five reasons. In the pre-dawn hours…

1.Your Willpower is at its Highest

2. Your Mind is Less Scattered

3. You’re Less Likely to Be Interrupted

4. You Increase The Availability of Time

5. You Start Your Day With a Sense of Accomplishment

Like anything in life, waking up crazy early takes a little practice, but you won’t regret it in the long run. Whether it’s reading a book as the sun comes out, working on your computer, preparing that evening’s dinner far in advance, or cleaning your home, you are certain to get much, much, much more done in those two or three hours than you could ever hope to accomplish at a “normal” time of day.

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31 Free Writing Contests

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You heard it here first, folks. FREE! Now, of course, you have to actually write something that you can submit to one of these contests to be eligible to win anything.

Details. Minor, minor details.

Praise be to Kelly Gurnett for putting together this list of 31 writing contests that range from short fiction and novels to full-length non-fiction and military stories – and all of which offer cash rewards with NO ENTRY FEE!

Click here to check it out for yourself.

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Quote of the Day

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“The inhabitant or soul of the universe…is never seen; its voice alone is heard. All we know is that it has a gentle voice, like a woman, a voice so fine and gentle that even children cannot become afraid. And what it says is: Sila ersinarsinivdluge, ‘Be not afraid of the universe.'”

Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live by (1972)

In my humble opinion, Joseph Campbell (1904-1987) was one of the most important and influential writers of the 20th century. While there are many scholars who specialize in one religion or mythology, Campbell was really the first person to unify them and realized they shared something in common: they were all variations of one great story, the monomyth (a term he borrowed from Joyce’s Finnegans Wake – a story you should not read without a full vial of Advil beside you).

Joseph Campbell was serious about his reading and his research. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who, from 1929-34, as the Great Depression began ravaging the world, moved to the middle of buttf*** nowhere and spent nine hours a day reading. Imagine how many books you could get through in five years reading at that pace. Epic.

In 1939, Campbell would draw on all of his studies and his vast knowledge of the world when he published The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the book that would not only serve as his coming out party, but what is widely regarded today as his magnum opus. To put it in perspective, this book would not only have immediate and significant academic influence, but it would go on to form the impetus behind now-legendary cultural markers such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones and The Matrix. Luke Skywalker, in fact, was a direct archetype of the very hero Campbell wrote about in that book, and George Lucas has repeatedly credited Campbell’s “hero” for creating a movie character now known the world over.

Something else many people will know of but not know where it came from is perhaps Campbell’s most famous quote, “follow your bliss,” a phrase that has become my friend Maria A.’s life mantra. Campbell came up with this after reading the Upanishads (Hinduism’s Sanskrit texts), and as he’d later explain:

I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

Joseph Campbell was prolific in his lifetime, but if you want his genius condensed into one sweet package, go and get The Power of Myth. It’s a book published the year after his death, an audio book series and a television PBS series with Bill Moyers. Watch it, listen to it, read it. You will walk away a better person for having done so. Guaranteed.

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Freelancers: Be Kind to Yourself

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Many thanks to my friend Jakelyin L. who shared this article from across the pond on Facebook. In a piece from The Guardian titled “Freelancing made my depression worse – here’s how I learnt to cope,” Thea de Gallier (@theadegallier) has my full sympathy as a freelancer of 117 years…er…17 years. (Sorry, it just feels like more than a century at this point.)

Fortunately, I don’t suffer from depression, but I cringed with genuine pain at how spot-on she was with the hardships of going it alone as a freelancer. Trust me, there’s nothing “free” about being a freelancer. It’s romantic in the same way wanting to become a novelist is just so darn dreamy. Or how swimming with a one-ton squid in the Pacific is so neat!

While people have always gawked at me (in wonder? in pity?) when I tell them I work from home as a freelancer – yep! no benefits, no insurance, no safety net! – if you’re going to make a go of this as a full-time gig, then I’d make sure you ask yourself one critical question: Are you self-disciplined enough to work, day or night, without someone physically threatening you in your presence?

And, apropos to the article, you’ve got to learn to be kind to yourself when your inclination will most likely be to push yourself harder and harder, if not because of looming deadlines then because by necessity you almost have to become a workaholic if you’re to have any financial success as a freelancer. Truly, it’s a jungle of hammerhead sharks out there.

Or as Ms. de Gallier writes more eloquently than yours truly:

Sticking to a routine and getting up early can be a mammoth task when depression is also a factor, as even the action of peeling back the duvet feels like over-exposure to a cruel and uncertain world. Freelancing can be cruel and uncertain, but I’ve decided I won’t let it beat me, and I realise now that the internet can be my ally in that goal, instead of my enemy.

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Quote of the Day

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“It is only by not paying one’s bills that one can hope to live in the memory of the commercial classes.”

Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)


O-dubs was a smart guy, that one. Although he grew up with not one but two governesses, he was grounded enough to know the role/burden that bills play in our lives. It may not be the sexiest subject, but it’s one of the few things on this planet that connects almost every human being. And while us peons who hang out on the bottom rungs of the financial ladder scoff at it, even millionaires stress out about bills and go broke all the time.

They* say there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. Well, there should be a third: bill collectors. All bills should come with a warning at the beginning – PAY NOW OR WE WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND, IF NECESSARY, KIDNAP YOUR PETS. HOW DO YOU LIKE ‘DEM APPLES NOW, MR./MS. CUSTOMER!

I was reminded of Wilde’s quote recently when a story surfaced in the newspaper about a hapless guy in T.O. who lived with his two kids and very nearly lost his electricity. Apparently after working out a plan with the hydro company to split the bill into three portions, he was told he was “lucky” his electricity wouldn’t be discontinued because the provincial government has mandated that June 1 still be deemed a “cold month” in Toronto. Therefore, the hydro company is by law not allowed to cut off this guy’s power.

(You mean it actually pays to live in a cold place like Canada?)

Yet if it had been July 1, he claims he would have been up a river, under the waterfalls, his dingy deflating after being punctured by falling rocks, and, of course, without a paddle.

Does that seem remotely fair, just or legal?

Who cares!

So, my dear friends who work as bill collectors or hired goons for loan sharks, I thank you on behalf of that wretched father and his children from the bottom of my heart for your sympathy. Scratch that – your empathy, for you clearly understand the human condition as well as Trump understands the word “truth” and North Korea understands the term “real world.”


* You know, “they”! Those two some guys and gals we all know of but have never actually met.

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You Are What You Read

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In a piece called “You Are What You Read: Research Reveals the Importance of What You’re Reading,” Alexa Erickson seems to be stating what most people already know; I don’t need research to tell me that if one person only reads The Wall Street Journal and another person only reads works of Jane Austen, they’re 99.9% likely to be profoundly different human beings.

Yet Ms. Erickson goes beyond the obvious and even gets scientific about the topic, drawing on a recent study published in the International Journal of Business Administration. She begins by differentiating light reading (“comprehending and decoding words”) and deep reading (“slow, methodical, emotional and morally complex”). Going further, she compares literary prose to poetry and finds that, scientifically speaking, reading poetry actually “activates the posterior cingulate cortex and medial temporal lobes – both of which are linked to self-analysis.”

Check out the above link if you want to learn some more interesting facts and science about the whole reading experience.

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