By now, chances are you’ve heard of hygge, the once “untranslatable word” that became understood and loved around the world. The Danish concept of simplicity, coziness and wellbeing has been translated into a design style, self-care routines and visions of covetable winter escapes complete with a roaring fire, wool blankets and snow gently falling outside.
In the hygge craze, though, perhaps we’re missing out on some other meaningful, untranslatable words from around the world that inspire wellbeing. Here are a few of my favorites.
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The Japanese concept of ikigai centers around a life of meaning. When you’re “finding your ikigai” you’re searching for that sweet spot where your passion, profession, skills and what you can offer the world meet. In short: your purpose, or reason for being.
While Westerners might be quick to equate ikigai with work and career, it doesn’t have to be. In fact, having ikigai in retirement is said to have a positive impact on longevity and wellbeing in old age. It could be your family, hobby, art or anything you tend to or cultivate.
Apprivoise in French literally translates to English as “to tame” but that interpretation doesn’t tell the whole story. To tame something implies a certain submissiveness or domestication. However, apprivoise actually means to make ties with someone or something who was previously unknown in a sea of others. It’s the act of forming a bond, of creating links between one another.
By making something special to us, it becomes known and therefore ours. We become known to each other, endearing to each other, and begin loving each other through the forging of small moments of connection. In this world of building walls instead of bridges, we could all use a little more apprivoise in our lives.
The ancient Chinese, or more precisely, the ancient Taoist principle of wu wei is essentially the art of non-action. Before you double up on your Netflix marathon sessions, wu wei isn’t about being lazy or turning a blind eye. It’s about letting go of struggle and effort to embrace ease and flow.
Wu wei relies on the understanding of nature, and how everything is done in its own way and in its own timing. That way, when we take action it’s strategic, aligned and in flow with the natural order of things. The idea is that when we do less, we preserve ourselves for action when necessary, leading to more precise and effective results. In other words: Get into alignment before taking action.
Stemming from the Scottish Gaelic word for a tiny nook or hole, còsagach as a lifestyle trend is Scotland’s answer to hygge. Meant to evoke feelings of being snug, cozy and sheltered, the term brings up the feeling you get while sipping hot toddies by a roaring fire while rough, rainy weather rages outside.
While hygge conjures up mental pictures of snow and blankets of white, còsagach takes a greener, wetter spin like you’d find in a damp forest after the rain. Are you on team hygge or còsagach?
In Japan, wabi sabi loosely translates to the acceptance of imperfection and transience, both as a design aesthetic and a lifestyle philosophy. Rooted in Zen Buddhism, wabi sabi isn’t easily translated, but its essence boils down to the wisdom of nature and simplicity combined with the beauty of age, flaws and impermanence. At its core, it’s a feeling that guides us toward a more fulfilling and meaningful way of living based in authenticity.
Isn’t it welcoming to let go of the idea of youth, newness and perfection and instead put value on the wisdom and beauty gained from maturity, hardships, resilience and the messiness of life?
Hot off the hygge trails, the Swedish word “lagom” is all about balance and the joy of a life of moderation. In essence, lagom means just the right amount. Enoughness. A particularly hard concept for the Type-A achievers out there.
Lagom can apply to work, of course, but also smartphone use, food, social media, virtually every aspect of life. Perhaps in striving for lagom, instead of striving for the most or the best, we can find a smidge of that elusive state we know as balance.
The simple translation from Greek: a state of serene calmness. More precisely, the term ataraxia comes from the Greek scientist and philosopher, Epicurus, and alludes to being free of unnecessary desires, or more literally, freedom from worry.
According to Epicurus’ philosophy, people should seek the absence of pain, not the pursuit of pleasure. The former results in peace of mind and tranquility while the latter ends up causing more dissatisfaction after a temporary lift.
In today’s world, we can seek ataraxia by spending more energy cultivating ideas, friendships with like-minded people, taking care of our health and becoming more aware of what emotions—positive or negative—cause pain and which bring happiness to our lives.
Have you heard of these untranslatable words before? Which one resonates with you the most?
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