Words That Make You Joyful

By Ingrid Fetell Lee
Words That Make You Joyful

Author’s note: This post was originally published on July 1, 2009. It has been updated and reposted.

Readers of joyful books, I have a recommendation for you: Eric Weiner’s The Geography of Bliss. (I just learned it has been adapted into a documentary series featuring The Office star Rainn Wilson. Adding to my watch list now…)

In the book, Weiner 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 made me think: What makes a word joyful? Weiner’s observation about Jamaica is true — it does make you smile. 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. 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.

Words That Make You Joyful

It is really just a silly, but enjoyable form of facial feedback, a psychological hypothesis that a person’s facial expressions impact their mood. So far, scientific evidence for this phenomenon has been mixed, but recent replication efforts suggest the effect is real and significant.

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. However, when this study was later repeated, the pencil-in-mouth method failed to replicate a conclusive effect.

But other studies have induced certain expressions in people by giving them instructions on which muscles to contract or by asking them to mimic expressions made by others. Subjects have reported feeling anger and other emotions due to the induced expressions. (For those interested in a deeper dive into the research, this study by the Many Smiles Collaboration includes a summary of the existing studies and more recent learnings from this international coalition of researchers.)

If it’s possible to influence our emotions through our expressions, maybe pronouncing joyful words — words that make our mouth muscles curve up into a smile — can make us feel more joyful.

Joyful Words

We all love happy music and maybe you even have a show or film you turn to when you need a smile. What if we also had a list of words that brought great joy to us and the people around us?

I’m going to try starting the day saying some of my favorites: kerfuffle, dingleberry, hullabaloo, bamboozle. Coming up with a handful of joyful words was a fun exercise, so I asked our Instagram community if you had any of their own. And did you ever!

Here’s a list of words that fill your faces with smiles:

  • Lollipop
  • Razzmatazz
  • Sparkle
  • Bubble
  • Blossom
  • Curlicue
  • Ripple
  • Pickle
  • Hurly-burly
  • Ding dong
  • Honeybunch
  • Parachute
  • Magic
  • Indubitably
  • Hijinks
  • Skedaddle
  • Howdy
  • Shenanigans
  • Crisp
  • Jubilee
  • Balderdash
  • Kazoo
  • Glitter
  • Splendid
  • Pantaloons
  • Hoopla
  • Abuzz
  • Whimsy
  • Huzzah
  • Bumblebee
  • Hootenanny
  • Rigamarole
  • Thingamabob
  • Fizz
  • Humdinger
  • Delicious
  • Serendipity
  • Epiphany
  • Confetti
  • Flip flop
  • Snazzy
  • Heebie-jeebies
  • Pizzazz
  • Snickerdoodle
  • Gobsmacked
  • Persnickety
  • Petrichor
  • Sassafras
  • Hubbub
  • Crumpet
  • Tomfoolery
  • Discombobulated
  • Buoyancy
  • Cacophony
  • Chickadee
  • Smorgasbord
  • Fisticuffs
  • Jitterbug
  • Scuttlebutt
  • Hippopotamus
  • Lollygag
  • Effervescence
  • Haberdashery
  • Hunky dory
  • Finagle
  • Hallelujah
  • Cruciferous
  • Squeegee
  • Luminous
  • Oodles
  • Murmuration

I notice that in addition to that joyful -ee sound, there are also a lot of words with repeated sounds on this list (perhaps a linguistic expression of the harmony aesthetic) and a lot of -z sounds as well.

What words make you joyful? I’d love to know! Add to the positive words list in the comments below!

Image: edwindejongh

January 19th, 2024


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    Discussion (12 Comments)

  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!

  2. Paul on January 19, 2024

    Great words! Callipygian (or callipygous, same meaning, but I prefer the former) is one of my favorite joy-inducing words.

  3. Kelly Papapavlou on January 20, 2024

    By the way, Callipygian is a word created straight from ancient Greek which are also used (rarely but joyfully!) in modern Greek. Iy means “having well-shaped buttocks”!

  4. Kelly Papapavlou on January 20, 2024

    I have learned a great word today! It describes a not-so-joyfull situation in a joyfull way: Enshittification!! As in https://buttondown.email/ninelives/archive/the-coming-enshittification-of-public-libraries/

  5. Jo P on January 20, 2024

    Ishkabibble is a word that makes my granddaughter and me giggle so hard!

  6. Rachel B on January 20, 2024

    Thanks for the great article. My New Year resolution is finding those words I sort of know but am not confident in using, then taking 1 a week, learn the definition & use it. I call it Wordsy. It’s a joyful rediscovery of half remembered words from many sources (reading some Dickens), & fun to share/ try out with family. This week it is mellifluous:)

  7. Susan Colket on January 20, 2024

    My neighbor, Bob, made up this word – ostenpuuhzhaal – meaning hugely great, stupendous – no definitive spelling.   I think this came into being when is only granddaughter came to visit.  He’s since passed and the word lives on.

  8. Lisa on January 20, 2024

    Gossamer. Shimmer. Tingle. 

    These words give me a shiver of joy!

  9. Lisa on January 20, 2024

    Some words are more joyful in a different language. “Retired” sounds tired, used up, dreary. The Spanish word is “jubilado/a,” which sounds jubilant, alive, energized!

  10. Penny Burdick on January 20, 2024

    There are 2 spelling bee words that always bring a smile to my face: tintinnabulation (the sound of bells ringing) & prestidigitation (magic; slight of hand). Now you’ve inspired me to listen for more smiley words!

  11. Lisa on January 21, 2024

    To me, “spacious” feels more joyful than “empty.” “Empty nest” connotes lack, loss, ending, melancholy. “Spacious nest” invites room to explore, opportunities for new
    beginnings, joy!

  12. Barbara Moore on February 27, 2024



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