The Words You Use to Describe Your Life May Be Making You Unhappy

15 Uncommon words that will help you create a richer, fuller experience of your mental health

“Words often represent a very partial, and sometimes misleading, account of what we actually feel.”

David Wallin

 

A word is not really just one word.

Let’s say that you travel to Hawaii on an 8 hour plane ride full of no privacy, old movies, turbulence, crying babies, sleeplessness, irritability, sweaty bad breath, and leg cramps. Yet you can say that your flight made you irritated (angry). We say one word to summarize 8 hours and 14 different thoughts/experiences/words/memories).

A word is not a word. A word is a word-thought-experience-memory all wrapped up into one tiny package.

Words are shortcuts, they are like psychological shorthand, brief summaries that attempt to communicate a much larger experience. When we settle for word-shortcuts, they can trap us and limit how we experience our lives and our ability to live fully even when things are very challenging.

Words are shortcuts, they are like psychological shorthand, brief summaries that attempt to communicate a much larger experience. When we settle for word-shortcuts, they can trap us and limit how we experience our lives and our ability to live fully even when things are very challenging.

The word-summaries that your brain uses demonstrates that how you think about your day is much, much different than how you experience your day. This is because our minds take shortcuts. While an experience can be very, very rich (or difficult or complex or happy or painfully slow), the words that we use to describe it often amount to just two or three words… or maybe just a sentence.

Our Mental Health word-shortcuts can create suffering

Now let’s go back to our Hawaii trip for a moment. But this time, instead of flying, suppose you spent the 8 hours at work. Your day is like this: No privacy, old memories, over stimulation, feeling like other people hate you, crying babies, feeling tired, irritability, sweaty bad breath, and uncertainty. How do you summarize all of this? One person might say their day felt “anxious.” That one word summarized 8 hours and 21 different thoughts-experiences-words-memories.

Maybe three of these experiences felt anxious and of these three, one may have felt like an 8/10. What about the other 18 thoughts-experiences-words-memories that day? Some experiences were tolerable. Others felt okay and maybe one felt really good. Too often our minds will not take the time to examine each of our daily experiences.

Our minds don’t like the idea that on any given day we can feel very upset, anxious, sad and also have other experiences that are fuller and more satisfying. To our mind, it is just easier concluding that life today sucked OR it was anxious OR it was happy.

Our psychological-shorthand, our word-shortcuts will categorize our day into just one word and then file it away in the “anxious” category. Then a part of our mind will react to having “one more day full of anxiety” and you may judge yourself, think about changing jobs, get upset that you don’t exercise enough, remind yourself of how you had three other “anxious” days this week and so maybe you need to go on medication.

You may need to see your doctor, or maybe you need to consult your dictionary? Better yet, put the dictionary down and pay attention. For one day, don’t settle for the one-word-shorthand-version-of-your-day. Instead of one-word, take one-minute:

  1. For 15 seconds pay attention to your thoughts, your mind’s-picture-words for a few minutes
  2. Then for 15 seconds tune in to your physical body and how it “senses” your day full of relationships, communications, connections
  3. Next, for 15 seconds tune in to your memories and how your mind links what happened today with the rest of your life
  4. The last 15 seconds, tune into your feelings and the ‘emotional landscape‘ of your day

You could take this experiment one step further and take one minute each day for a week… or even live on the edge and take a minute three times each day for a week.

It takes practice to step away from our one-word-summaries and notice. Maybe this is why we prefer the one-word-psychological-shortcut?

Paying attention is not what we are used to. Our world doesn’t encourage attention. And it doesn’t encourage anything more that the psychological-shorthand-version-of-life and it ignores how this shorthand-version-of-life will affect you and I.

Consider how the shorthand-version-of-your-day is affecting how you feel about your life? Sometimes we live out the summary instead of truly experiencing our lives. Maybe we conclude that our one-word-a-day is the best that we can do? Or we conclude that that one-word (too-anxious, too-angry, too-sad, too-stupid, too-inattentive, too-needy, too-triggered, too-much-change) was so difficult that we can’t try to do something else, something that is uncomfortable, something important (go for a walk, go out with your partner or our family, spend time on a hobby, read)?

Have you settled for a one-word-psychological-summary of your life?

Is the shorthand-version-of-your-day helping you to live the life that you want? To feel alive. To do the things that make you feel that your day meant something? Or is your shorthand getting into your way?

Is the shorthand-version-of-your-day helping you to live the life that you want? To feel alive. To do the things that make you feel like your day meant something? Or is your shorthand getting in your way?

There really is no right answer. It’s just a question.

The other day, my daughter shared with me a handwritten list of words that she found on Pintrest. The words were unusual words. Some were from different languages. Other words were old, unused words. They took work to pronounce and a little more work to understand.

If you are searching for different words to describe your life, your experience, your day you could try out one of these words. If I can be so bold, I suggest that you begin with this one: ineffable: too great to be expressed in words.” Because really, both you and your experience are ineffable.

For me, each of the 15 words is like looking through a different window, each word seeing my experience, my thoughts, my feelings a little differently. Each of these words has a different meaning and some words may not mean anything to you. That’s because it’s my list. Take what you like from my list and then add your own words.

15 Uncommon words that will help you create a richer, fuller experience of your mental health

1.kintsugi: to repair with gold; the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

The unfamiliar, the unexpected can become an opening

2.eutony: the pleasantness of how a word sounds

3.eunoia – beautiful thinking, a well mind.

4.querencia: a place from which your strength is drawn; where you feel at home; the place where you are able to be you.

5.solivagant: wandering alone

6.sehnsucht: longing deeply for what is not yet; for a far away place; for the familar yet unknown.

7.serendipity: the chance occurrence of events in a beneficial way

8.Aurora Borealis: dawn of the north

9.Iridescence: the changing colors that occur as something moves around

10.sonder: the realization that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own

11.hiraeth: a sense of grief or longing for a place or a life that may have been or that never was; the knowledge that even if you return to a place, to yourself, to old or past relationships, they have changed.

Paying attention is not what we are used to. Our world doesn’t encourage attention. And it doesn’t encourage anything more that the psychological-shorthand-version-of-life and it ignores how this shorthand-version-of-life will affect you and I.

12.denouement: resolution of a story or narrative

13.epiphany: a moment of sudden realization

14.aurora: the dawn

15.opia: the intensity of looking someone else straight in the eye, feeling both vulnerable and invasive at the same time.

Somewhere between the words that we use and what is “real” (what is experienced-sensed-felt-and-lived) is a doorway. That doorway can open up. I’m not sure where the door will lead for you, or even for me. But I know that you and I can open the door again and again. And the more practice we have with opening up, we start to expand ourselves.

The more that we open the door, the more that we become ineffable rather than inflexible.

And that, that is a good day… or better yet: An ineffebly-expanded-real-up-and-down-day.

◊♦◊

If you enjoyed today’s post, I suggest a few articles that you can read for more:

The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris is based on ACT: Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. ACT is more than a counselling approach. It will help you experience-think-feel differently.

Let this Moment, Whatever Moment You Have, be Inspired by Dr. Seuss

Are Your Words Getting in the Way of Your Life?

Five Things that You Hate, but You Need in Your Recovery… Right Now

This is where I am supposed to write some serious stuff about myself. But in reality, I just hope that you enjoy what I write. I hope it makes you smile, makes you feel a little lighter and enjoy your life a little more. Nope, it’s not therapy, but I am sharing the good stuff… the stuff that helps me.

If you like it, sign up for my blog and share my work. And if you want to go the extra mile, click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Photo by Gential LAMBERT

Keep it Real


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s