Happiness: an analyses of the term in different languages
In a way, happiness (and its antonymous term – unhappiness) are related to the verb to happen, linking them with favourable or unfavourable events taking place outside of us, our state of mind dependent on external factors. In Old English you would wish “good luck” by saying “good hap”.
In Latin, Felicitas means fortune, luck, or more rarely, destiny. (Minois, 2009)
In German, Glück means both happiness and fortune. While its antonym, Unglück, is the state of being sad, unhappy and also means disgrace.
In French we have bonheur and malheur, which follow an identical pattern.
Are we right? Are we sure that happiness comes from what happens to us?
Maybe it’s just a culturally rooted point of view.
What about in Africa? Could African culture give the West a much more interesting perspective?
For instance, the Fante speakers of Ghana describe happiness/excitement literally as “eye-get” (“anigye”) and joy/contentment as “eye-agree/reach” (“anika”), in contrast with shame as “eye-die” (“aniwu”) and guilty as “eye-put” (“anyito” in Dzokoto & Okazaki, 2006)
Suhipelli in Dagbani language (Ghana) can be translated as White heart.
Both languages suggest that Happiness is moving from inside the individual, towards the outside, so it depends on us.
Maybe we should take this possibility into consideration.
Curious to know more?
“Although many theories about the structure of emotion have been developed, none of them seem to adequately explain the African experience. This study examined the folk emotion lexica of two indigenous West African languages. Fifty monolingual Fante speakers and 50 monolingual Dagbani speakers from rural and semirural Ghana participated in focus groups to generate words in their native language that they use to describe experiences that involve emotions. Qualitative analysis of the emotion lexica generated by the focus group participants revealed frequent somatic referencing in the emotion talk of Fante and Dagbani, although there were differences in the specific body parts mentioned in references to various emotional experiences. The ubiquity of somatic referents in the expression of African emotions suggests that future theories of emotion structure may need to incorporate the concept of embodiment.”
“Happiness in the Eye and the Heart: Somatic Referencing in West African Emotion Lexica”, Vivian Afi Dzokoto, Sumie Okazaki, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0095798406286799
“Several programs of empirical research have also revealed cultural variations in the connotation of happiness. For instance, Lu and Gilmour (2004) found that Americans tend to associate excitement and success with happiness, whereas the Chinese tend to associate peace and calm with happiness. Similarly, Jeanne Tsai and her colleagues found that Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese value low-arousal positive affect such as calmness, whereas Americans typically value high-arousal positive affect such as excitement
(Tsai, Knutson, & Fung, 2006). Interestingly, Taiwanese children’s books depicted a mild smile more often than a wide smile, whereas American children’s books depicted a wide smile more often than a mild smile (Tsai, Louie, Chen, & Uchida, 2007). Similarly, Christian texts often use high arousal positive emotions, whereas Buddhist texts often use low arousal positive emotions (Tsai, Miao, & Seppala, 2007).
Given that American concepts of happiness center on achieving of one’s goals, it makes sense that the resulting emotions are excitement and pride.
In contrast, given that Chinese conceptions of happiness center on luck, the resulting emotional state might not be excitement but rather akin to gratitude and satisfaction”
By Shigehiro Oishi, Department of Psychology, University of Virginia
How do you express happiness and luck in your language?
Do you differentiate between the two?Let us know your thoughts.
If you wish to go deeper on Africa:
Cultural Models of Well-Being Implicit in Four Ghanaian Languages
Folk emotion concepts: Lexicalization of emotional experiences across languages and cultures
By Anna Ogarkova
Happiness in the Eye and the Heart: Somatic Referencing in West African Emotion Lexica
Vivian Afi Dzokoto, Sumie Okazaki