Words that make you joyful

By Ingrid Fetell Lee

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I would like to know what words make people feel joyful. I just finished reading Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss, a book that illuminates several truths about joy, and in one very funny passage, he comments on the way the name Moldova has a certain emotional quality:

Even the name sounds melancholy. Moldooova. Try it. Notice how your jaw droops reflexively and your shoulders slouch, Eeyore-like. (Unlike “Jamaica,” which is impossible to say without smiling.)

It’s true about Jamaica. I think this simple pronunciation exercise could be a prescription on a list of things designed to help people nudge up their happiness levels, ever so slightly. If people got out of bed every morning for a month and said “Jamaica” a couple times before they went about their days, I wonder what effects it might have.

It is really just a silly, but enjoyable form of facial feedback, a phenomenon well-documented by psychologists where a person’s facial expressions have been demonstrated to impact their mood. One particularly interesting experiment asked participants to rate a set of cartoons while holding a pencil either between their teeth or their lips. Holding a pencil between your teeth forces your mouth into a smile (you can try this yourself) while holding it between your lips curves your mouth downward into a frown. The subjects who rated the very same set of cartoons with the pencil between their teeth on average found the cartoons funnier than the “lips” group. Other studies have induced certain expressions in people by giving them instructions on which muscles to contract, and subjects have reported feeling anger and other emotions due to the induced expressions.

So maybe pronouncing joyful words, words that make our mouth muscles curve up into a smile, can make us feel more joyful. What words make you joyful? I’d love to know!

Image: edwindejongh

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July 1st, 2009

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    Discussion (1 Comment)

  1. Icy on July 1, 2009

    Actually, it’s quite hard just to think of some off hand. Some I’ve come up with are: bounce, sweetie, book, grin (as opposed to smile), giggle (as opposed to laugh), generous, Mr Icy and IcyMiss, sastifaction, marriage, baby, sunshine, storm.

    That’ll do I think, but what a great exercise!

    Reply

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