Good life: In other words…

Words fail me sometimes when describing our simple life. English words, that is. But there is a world of words out there that may not have simple translations into English but nail the essence of what it means to be a contented human being.

Here are some of my favorites:

Hygge (HYOO-guh). This Danish word connotes a feeling of warmth and closeness to friends and family, tucked under blankets on a snowy day with a cup of coffee and pleasant conversation. It’s a cultural icon in Denmark (home of the world’s happiest people).

Gaman (ga-MAHN). Deriving from Zen Buddhism, this Japanese concept means enduring the seemingly unbearable with uncomplaining patience and dignity. Perseverance, tolerance and self-denial. Gaman is a sign of maturity, strength and politeness in Japan.

Friluftsliv (free-looft-SLEEVE). Norwegian for exploring and appreciating nature to the point of sensing oneself as part of the landscape. Spiritual connectedness to nature, with connotations of getting away from it all.

Buen Vivir. This South American concept means being part of a vibrant world that includes human and natural communities. The economy exists to serve us and not the other way around, a community-centric way of doing things with ecological balance and cultural sensitivity. “Sumak Kawsay” in the language of the Quechua people of the Andes.

Ikigai. My favorite Japanese word, loosely translated as a reason to get out of bed in the morning. A sense of purpose that everyone can have, but finding it requires searching within. Important on Okinawa, home of many centenarians, who believe that it boosts immunity and lowers stress, and that having a strong reason to live helps you live longer.

Jugaad (joo-GOD). This Hindi-Urdu word describes an innovative fix or work-around solution that might bend the rules a bit. Creativity to make existing things work with meager resources, or an improvised solution born of ingenuity. Can be applied to an enterprising street mechanic or a political fixer.

Gemutlichkeit. This German word conveys a spirit of warmth and friendliness and belonging, acceptance, cordiality, contentedness with the comfort of a well-off middle-class life.

Lagom (la-GOM). Swedish for just the right amount, moderation, appropriateness, less is more. For everything there is a perfect amount of food, space, laughter or sadness.

Eudaimonia. Greek for the essence of what it means to be human, it translates to “good spirit.” To Aristotle, it was the highest human good.

Do you know any words in other languages that I should add to my list?

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3 thoughts on “Good life: In other words…

  1. Ikigai is what I’m looking for, and now I have a word for it. I will have to learn to pronounce it correctly.
    This is an amazingly informative post. Have you been collecting these words yourself, or has someone been doing it for you on line?
    This post leads me to one of my favorite topics in my old age: the limits of words, what can be captured in words, and what remains outside of words. Steve Martin put it best, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” Now you present an accompaniment to this: what is in the working vocabulary of some cultures, but not others.
    Or to quote the Kevin Bacon character in the movie “Diner”, “You ever get the feeling there’s something going on that we don’t know about?”
    Answer: absolutely, or perhaps we know it but aren’t able to say it.

  2. Pingback: A simple living index | Adventures in the good life

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