Can’t find the right word to describe how you feel? Reach for The Happiness Dictionary

Can't find the right word to describe how you feel?

If words fail you, it may be time to reach for a different language. Peter Foy finds a book that helps you do just that

By Peter Foy

I can’t be the only person who occasionally struggles to find a word that does justice to my feelings. It happens when my emotions are running especially high. When I’m not just happy, but really happy. Not just in love, but head-over-heels in love. Not just optimistic, but filled with a profound sense that all will be well in the end.

    ...if there isn’t an English word that captures my precise feelings at any given moment, there’s a fairly high chance I’ll find a Finnish one. Or Portuguese. Or Romanian.  

For years, I’ve found this experience frustrating. I’ve taken it as a sign of my limited vocabulary. An indication that I should expand my linguistic knowledge in order that I’m not forced to wave my arms around while groaning inchoately, hoping that such action will convey the deep emotion I’m struggling to put into words.

But now, thanks to the pioneering work of Dr Tim Lomas, I have a way to cope. I simply abandon my native tongue and reach for an unfamiliar language. Because, if there isn’t an English word that captures my precise feelings at any given moment, there’s a fairly high chance I’ll find a Finnish one. Or Portuguese. Or Romanian.

You get the idea. Dr Lomas has compiled a lexicon of foreign words that are untranslatable, but communicate good things. Commentators have christened it the ‘happiness glossary’ and that’s a pretty good description.

Let’s look at an example. We’re all familiar with the Danish word, ‘hygge’, which communicates a sense of emotional comfort located in a particular place. Actually, that doesn’t do it justice, which shows just how difficult it is to express the concept in English.

Can't find the right word to describe how you feel?But here’s the rub, because Norwegians and Swedes don’t struggle to convey the meaning of hygge. They have words with very similar meanings, presumably because they too value a warm place to snuggle into when the temperature drops and the light fades.

Now that’s all well and good, and maybe of profound interest if you happen to make your living as a linguist. But Dr Lomas is a “positive psychologist”, so his concern is about more than mapping the way words are used across cultures.

For Dr Lomas, the power of expanding our vocabulary to include these untranslatable words is simple: it gives us a greater opportunity to express positivity, and is therefore likely to make us feel better about life.

That is why he’s published The Happiness Dictionary: a collection of the words he’s found that don’t have an English parallel, but which will greatly enhance our ability to express good feelings.

    If expanding our vocabulary is a way of making us feel better about ourselves, and about life in general, it can only be a good thing.  

The use of non-English words in English conversation or written discourse is nothing new. Anyone who’s uttered the phrase “L’esprit de l’escalier” will know this all too well. It means, literally, “The spirit of the staircase” and is used to describe that frustrating experience when you think of the perfect riposte about five minutes after the encounter in which it should have been deployed. It’s pretty much a constant feeling for me.

Likewise, scholarly discourse frequently deploys foreign tags to communicate meaning with more economy than English allows. Consider the use of “e.g.”, “pace”, and “mutatis mutandis” ­– they are all words that litter textbooks and academic monographs, with which readers are expected to be familiar.

The difference between this use of non-English words and the use proposed by Dr Lomas is simple, however: The Happiness Dictionary is for everyone, to enhance our positive feelings and enrich our lives. The use of Latin tags is almost the exact opposite: it’s about creating a distinction between those in the know and the uneducated masses, signalling erudition and perpetuating exclusivism.

That’s why I’m such a big fan of Dr Lomas and his project. If expanding our vocabulary is a way of making us feel better about ourselves, and about life in general, it can only be a good thing. Here’s to the power of words to change the world.

Published: 9 April 2020

© 2020 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

If you enjoyed this article, you may like: Why encouragement is the greatest motivator

You may also enjoy: Just on mental health and wellbeing

Jobs currently available

New job
QA Manager
Sector: Engineering and Manufacturing
Salary: Discussed on application
Location: Saffron Walden
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910873
About the role

Our client is seeking an experienced Quality Assurance Manager to join them on a permanent, full-time basis. This opportunity offers stability, longevity and professional development.

Reporting directly to the MD, the Quality Assurance Manager will be responsible for:

  • Maintaining and improving the Company's Quality Management System and ensure internal compliance
  • Working with all departments to ensure their procedures are being followed and to improve their internal and cross-functional processes and procedures
  • Ensure that the quality of current and newly introduced products is compliant and traceable
  • Coordinate Quality activities with all over departments
  • Develop and improve quality relationships with all customers of the Company
  • Responsible for all Quality activities and personnel in the Quality Department for the Company
  • Provide strong leadership in the day-to-day operations of the Quality department and mentor the members of the team
  • Establish performance goals for all departmental employees and monitor performance on a continual basis
  • Oversee all hiring, appraisal, training and discipline of Quality personnel
  • Member of the Company's Management team
  • Produce the Quality element of the company's annual Budget
  • Formulate the departmental strategy aligned to the overall Company strategy
  • Embed a Continuous Improvement culture within the Quality Dept and contribute to the Continuous Improvement programme across the site


  • HND or equivalent qualification in Engineering or a related technical field required
  • Minimum 5 years experience in a Manufacturing environment
  • Ability to articulate (verbally and in writing), defend and negotiate Quality expectations with internal and external customers at all levels of management
  • Good interpersonal skills with the ability to guide and educate/train at all levels
Read more
New job
Customer Service Administrator
Sector: Customer Service
Salary: £22,000 per annum
Location: Halstead
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910871
About the role

Just Recruitment is delighted to be supporting a well-regarded organisation at the forefront of its sector that is looking to add a Customer Service Administrator to its team, due to growth – based on the outskirts of Halstead.

The main purpose of the role is to service current and prospective customers by receiving and processing orders, enquiries and general information in a timely and courteous manner.

Key tasks include:

  • Answering incoming calls, giving product information, lead times, dealing with general enquiries and queries, redirecting calls to relevant departments
  • Raising and inputting orders and proforma invoices
  • Raising quotations
  • Amending orders, as required
  • Scanning documentation
  • Liaising with Areas Sales Managers and responding to their requests
  • Arranging couriers and/or carriers as required
  • Any general office associated duties

Key requirements for the role:

  • Excellent computer skills
  • Good eye for detail
  • The ability to work well under pressure
  • Courteous

Previous experience requirements:

  • Previous Customer Service Administrative experience gained within an office environment
  • Excellent telephone manner with the ability to communicate at all levels
  • High level of attention to detail and accuracy
  • Good working knowledge of Microsoft Office and experience of in-house systems
  • Ability to multi-task and prioritise own workload
  • Exceptional communication skills, both written and verbal
  • Understanding of the importance of data protection and adherence to the process

Offering free parking and an excellent working environment, this is a great opportunity to join a growing team.

Working Monday to Friday 37.5 hours per week - offering a competitive salary and company benefits.

Read more
New job
Production Operative
Sector: Engineering and Manufacturing
Salary: £8.91 per hour
Location: Needham Market
Role: Full Time
Contract: Temporary
Job ref: 910811
About the role

Want to work in a safe, clean environment?
And have the possibility of ongoing work?

Just Recruitment is recruiting for a Temporary Production Operative to be based in Needham Market.

Duties include:

  • Ensure all final and completed products are packed to the customer specifications                               
  • Informing Line Leaders of defects found in the products
  • Keep machines supplied with packing materials and labels
  • Assist the Line Leaders with handovers and changeovers
  • Responsible for general cleanliness of the production area and removal of production and general waste
  • Check products on the line for quality and defects
  • Basic production duties carried out in a fast-paced environment

Working hours:

8.30am - 5.00pm Monday to Friday

Read more
New job
Logistics Coordinator
Sector: Transport, Logistics and Shipping
Salary: £24,000 per annum
Location: Ipswich
Role: Full Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910869
About the role

Just Recruitment is delighted to be supporting, a well-regarded, family-run business on the outskirts of Ipswich.

You will be responsible for assisting with the loads out operation of the business by ensuring that the process from collection to arrival at the final destination is fully supported by the relevant goods in haulage documentation.

You will also be supporting the sales function of the business by dealing with customer queries in terms of both sales and operations as well as assisting with various ad-hoc marketing campaigns. This is a very varied role and requires flexibility, commitment and a substantial desire to learn and grow with the flourishing business.

Duties will include:

  • Process orders and oversees the order to completion of paperwork
  • Facilitate the shipping of products from one destination to another
  • Arrange transportation with outside hauliers
  • Receive paperwork from the Weighbridge department and check and complete the paperwork within the allocated time allowed
  • Answer calls and emails relating to customer queries and log them on the CRM system and resolve any outstanding issues raised
  • Keep CRM records up-to-date
  • Work with the sales and operations team to ensure that high customer service levels are achieved and delivered to all customers you are responsible for at all times

Skills required:

  • Good Microsoft skills including Word, Outlook & Excel
  • Ability to work proactively on an independent basis as well as be a good team player
  • You will have the interpersonal skills necessary to develop and sustain effective relationships with team members of other departments and with all customers
  • Good attention to detail and analytical skills
Read more
New job
Legal Secretary (Part-Time)
Sector: Law and Security
Salary: Up to £11.00 per hour
Location: Witham
Role: Part Time
Contract: Permanent
Job ref: 910868
About the role

Just Recruitment is delighted to be supporting an established business, based in Witham looking to add a highly-skilled secretary to their long-standing team.

The role will involve, audio typing, preparing documents, answering the phone, dealing with enquiries and assisting colleagues as well as directing queries as needed.

Key responsibilities to include:

  • Audio typing – dictation
  • Preparing letters and drafting documents
  • Handling diaries and booking appointments
  • Answering the phone and dealing with queries
  • General secretarial and office-based duties

As well as having experience in a secretarial position, you will have audio typing experience and excellent typing skills. The role requires you to have a good level of IT literacy, experience of Word (essential) and Excel would be useful. You will take pride in your work and have a caring and sympathetic nature.

Please note this role is part-time.

This is a great opportunity, offering a good pay rate and company benefits.

Read more