Since emotions are primarily generated by thoughts, and since thoughts are essentially experienced as words in our mind; I believe that language plays a major role in our ability to perceive happiness. This post is more about questions than answers, and there may be a voluminous storehouse of information already addressing this matter. These are my experiences, observations, and hypotheses. I believe language shapes culture, customs, and cognitive styles.
In my adventures I have encountered, befriended, and worked with people from all continents and many cultures. I have noticed striking differences in the ways people experience emotions, respond to situations, and express themselves; based on what their original language is, and whether or not they primarily speak a second language. For example, I worked with a guy from Japan who told me that there are no words in the Japanese language that symbolize love or most positive emotions. He married an American woman who teaches English. As he began studying English he was reborn. He said that he had never felt feelings, cried continuously, and passionately craved emotions and the language that, for him, awakened them within him. He also had to learn how to manage them, as they were foreign to him. I had noticed this phenomenon before, but this situation made it unequivocally clear to me — that our language influences what we think, feel, do, and see.
Not only do some languages contain more symbols, concepts, and representative words for positive emotions; but some naturally flow like a mountain stream, an intoxicating melody, or a sensual caress. Some might argue that such perceptions are based on the relative familiarity one has with the language in question. My response to this is that when we listen to ocean waves, wind whispering through the coconut fronds, or rain dripping on monstera leaves; it may generate different responses within us, depending upon our pre-existing state; but the range of experiences is similar for most who share them. For example, gentle waves create peace and calmness for most who listen to them. Aside from the familiarity factor, and whether or not a language supports the full range of positive emotions; the vibrational contours of words create frequencies of beauty, sweetness, and positive emotion.
Let’s take a look at names. If you verbalize and reflect upon the name Sophi Angelina Villena, what starts to happen? What thoughts, feelings, words, or images appear in your mind? In the absence of a highly sensitized association, it may feel like sweetness, beauty, poetry, or happiness. Now let’s consider the names Uko Natsuki Hashimoto, and Wolfgang Schweighardt Weisenheimer. What responses to these names generate? It may be difficult to remove conditioned associations, but when you simply speak the words, their syllabic rhythms, melodic vs. dissonant vibrations, harmonious vs. conflicted frequencies, and flowing vs. choppy meters; create relatively aesthetic, positive, or natural thoughts and emotions. This is why poetry and certain writing styles make us feel good when we read them, regardless of the subject matter. Remember the waves.
When people speak a second language, but were not raised bilingual from birth; they tend to revert back to their first language when under stress. This makes neurologic sense, as the brain shifts into survival mode when we feel negative emotions. This limits the range of our thoughts, possibilities, and courses of action to those associated with staying alive in the face of mortal danger. The intellectual or aesthetic pursuit of a second language is a non-essential when your life is at stake. When they are under stress, you may notice that the person speaking the second language suddenly has a more difficult time communicating, or has a much thicker accent. This is because their brain shifted them back into their original language, and they are now thinking in this language, and having to translate everything; rather than initially thinking in their second language. This process alone (initially thinking in first language and then having to translate into second one) can increase the stress, prolong the recovery time, and limit one’s ability to notice other positive things. It also makes communication more challenging until the stress resolves (until the brain shifts back from survival mode into safe mode)..
I am suggesting that when we think, feel, speak, write, or read; the words we generate or focus on will, in part, determine our happiness. So we may want to consider this when creating positive affirmations, writing poetry, or meditating. We may want to choose the most positive and aesthetically beautiful words. Some people feel better by simply visiting their handy dandy on-line thesaurus and reading through a felicitous string of synonyms. Give it a try. It actually makes you feel better.
What have your experiences been pursuant to this phenomenon? Do you find beauty or happiness in words? Do you realize that you think in words? What types of words typically color your thoughts? What are the emotions they generate?
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