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The Untranslatable Words for Living Happily Around the World

Our resident expert in flaneuring weighs in on the art of living happily around the world.

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Some of the most beautiful words are the ones that are not simply defined. And I’m not talking about the vocabulary you’re likely to hear in an advanced chemistry class or around your friend who seems to know it all. There are BIG words, and then there are big words. The terms I’m tackling here are massive in definition: They encompass feelings, indescribable sensations, and the practices that make life a little more delightful. You don’t hear these words, you feel them.

Chances are you’ve heard more than one of the terms below at some point in your adult life. Many of them incite lifestyle trends of sorts, encouraging people to live more mindfully and in-the-moment. Hygge may be the most well-known of the bunch, a word we will dig into shortly. The term—which began popping up in written English language in the mid-20th century, according to Merriam-Webster—even became the subject of an entire book, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living.

It’s easy to get caught up in the act of “improving yourself,” whether that’s visiting a gym more frequently, spending more time cooking, or practicing better work/life balance. No matter what your goals may be, starting by learning, living, and breathing the following words will get you to a better place.


(Danish): “A feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cozy, charming or special,” according to

To truly get in touch with your inner hygge, find the coziest blanket you own, put on some soft, oversized socks, don your favorite sweater, and make yourself something hot to drink. Now, just do nothing. And if you absolutely must engage in some activity, read or journal. To live a hygge life is to be truly cozy. As you can imagine, it’s best practiced during the wintertime.


(French): The act of wandering without intent or a conscious route, observing the surroundings versus being an active participant in a scene.

To be a flaneur is to attempt to view the world with new eyes. The flaneurs were originally verbose and artistic French men at the turn of the century—women were not a welcome addition to this group. To be a flaneur was to head out on long walks to gather material, or observations, for essays, poetry, or party talk. The flaneurs were intellectuals. Today, anyone can be a flaneur—find some comfortable walking shoes and get out there. Full disclosure: I wrote a whole book on the topic and how to integrate it into your daily life: The Art of Flaneuring.


(Swedish): A word for when you take a break from what you’re doing to grab a coffee and a snack.

This is exactly what you think it is: Taking a moment from your day—work or weekend—and enjoying a good snack with some coffee (or tea). If you really want to do it the Swedish way, get your hands on a fresh-from-the-oven baked good.


(Dutch): Depending on how you’re using it, this word can be translated as conviviality, coziness, or fun. On a higher level, it can be used to describe a situation or scene that is social and relaxed.

Think of this as the Dutch version of “chill.” Gezellig is a movie night with your friends, staying in and playing cards, sharing a bottle of wine and gossiping with your best friend.


(Arabic): The act of staying up late and having conversations with friends and family.

This is the kind of thing that gets better with age. When you’re younger, the conversations might span school crushes or activities and weekend plans. Later in life, the topics turn more serious, introspective, and riddled with great life advice.


(Spanish): When you hang out after a meal has finished, just to converse and enjoy each other’s company.

Similar to “samar,” this is that special time when you know no one wants to leave the table because everything is going so well.


(Serbian): A feeling of happiness, bliss, or fulfillment from feeling a sense of oneness with the universe and the simplest of pleasures; also describes the build-up of small pleasures into a larger sense of happiness.

I’ve felt this a handful of times in my life: wandering a chaotic Owino Market in Uganda’s capital city, floating around the Blue Lagoon in Iceland, and wondering about my neighborhood in Brooklyn on a particularly beautiful day. These are the days where you’re stuck by how beautiful the moment may be, leading you to a larger appreciation for your current space in life.


(German): When nothing around you is bothersome; peace and quiet.

Have you ever looked around a room and rejoiced at how perfectly tranquil it felt to be there? This is ruhe.


(Swedish): Just the right amount, not too much.

Lagom might be the toughest word on this list to describe. Think of these scenarios as a manifestation of lagom: serving yourself the perfect amount of ice cream where you aren’t craving more and another bite would overdo it, slipping on a dress that fits perfectly, or making just enough coffee for one cup.


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