These 5 Untranslatable Words Can Change The Way You Look At The World

March 30, 2022

I’m sitting on the train, overcome with emotions. As I am reminiscing about the last few days I can’t believe my time at the retreat is over. I’m glad it happened, but at the same time I’m really sad I have to leave. All the memories make me feel grateful and nostalgic at the same time. How do I even begin to describe how I feel? Being unable to name my experience makes me feel isolated and confused… Am I the only one who feels this way? If only I knew that this exact feeling has its name in Japanese. It’s called natsukashii (懐かしい)—a nostalgic longing for the past, with happiness for the fond memory, yet sadness that it is no longer.

It’s undeniable. The language we speak creates our reality. Whether we can experience certain things is dependent on the fact that we have the vocabulary to name them. Familiarizing ourselves with untranslatable words from different cultures can have a profound effect on our well-being. According to researcher Dr. Tim Lomas, learning about untranslatable words helps us understand other cultures better and gives us a tool for our own experiences. It makes us feel less lonely when we feel complex emotions or experience profound things that in our language can’t be described with a single word. That’s why adding these five words to your vocabulary can change the way you see your inner and outer world! All of the following definitions come from the research of Dr. Lomas.

Woman in a forest

1. Hirgun

Language: Hebrew
Meaning: Saying nice things to others simply to make them feel good
Why should we know it: What is the intention behind the words we speak? As we learn hirgun, anytime I compliment my neighbor’s haircut or my partner’s choice of clothing I know there’s a clear purpose: make them feel good. It’s as simple as that but can be revolutionary in the way we cultivate loving speech. It’s giving someone a gift in a form of words and it’s cultivating the Words of Affirmation Love Language.

2. Aõ jenna

Language: Icelandic
Meaning: Ability or willingness to persevere through tasks that are hard or even just boring
Why should we know it: We all know those tasks. They’re impossible to finish or simply tedious and we can think of a hundred other things we’d rather be doing. What if we changed our perspective from dreading the task to the fact that we’re strengthening our aõ jenna muscle? The more we do it, the more we’re able to see ourselves as someone who is strong enough to complete something hard, seemingly impossible or repetitive. Next time you have to defrost the fridge or finish your tax return, just think of practicing aõ jenna!

3. Gökotta

Language: Swedish
Meaning: Waking up early with the purpose of going outside to hear the first birds sing
Why should we know it: The beautiful Swedish word explains it all. Waking up early with the sole purpose of hearing the first birds brings us back in touch with nature and its delicate beauty. Knowing about gökotta and choosing to get up early just to cultivate it can be the most healing experience.

4. Smriti (स्मृनत)

Language: Sanskrit
Meaning: Importance of cultivating present-moment awareness
Why should we know it: May we never underestimate the power of mindfulness. Smitri dispels all the doubts, reminding us of the importance of mindfulness. Whatever you choose during the day, whatever you do and wherever you are you can remember about smitri. Being aware of the present moment is the most efficient way to reduce stress, anxiety and improve our overall health, memory and attention capabilities. When we know something’s important, we can deliberately choose to focus on practising it.

5. Shinrin-yoku (森林浴)

Language: Japanese
Meaning: The relaxation gained from ‘bathing’ in the forest
Why should we know it: Let the power of shinrin-yoku carry you the forest as often as possible. The Japanese have cut to the core: going to the forest is healing. It’s not just any park or garden, but forest, the powerful and deeply complex organism that brings us soothing like nothing else. Adding shinrin-yoku as one of the tools in your toolbox can have a profound effect on our health. Next time my stress levels rise or I’m feeling on edge…with the practice of shinrin-youku I’m off to the forest!

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Photo” Nick Linnen via Unsplash

Ula Czumaj
Ula was born on the verge of summer, and that must have predestined her to always balance between places, ideas, and hobbies. Having been living a nomadic life for the last five years, she’s been infusing with different tastes, lives, cultures, languages and cuisines and lets that ooze in her writing. A lifelong yoga student, who loves sharing her passion as a teacher. Originally from Mazury, Poland, she shares her time between Canada and Europe. She can be easily bribed with a cup of genmaicha or cat snuggles.


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