Assay>: On the importance of choosing the right vocabulary.
As I’ve talked to people about their happiness projects, I’ve realized that the specific words people choose are very important. Using the right vocabulary makes a surprising
For instance, for my happiness project, I try to identify and make concrete, manageable resolutions that will bring about change in that area, and I’ve made dozens of resolutions.
I was talking to someone about her happiness project, and she said, “I don’t like the word ‘resolutions,’” she said. “I like the word ‘intentions.’”
Now, for whatever reason, I’m not attracted to the word “intention,” but the word “resolutions” has powerful positive connotations.
Different words set off different reactions in people – and although the difference between “resolution” and “intention” might seem slight, it influences how engaged people feel.
Or the term “happiness project.” Some people have told me they don’t like that phrase. Someone who loves art and design might prefer to frame a happiness project as “Design My Life.” Or a person who loves travel and exploration might “Start My Journey.”
In fact, some people bristle at the word “happiness” itself. They prefer to focus on qualities like peace, serenity, satisfaction, or contentment. As for me, I take issue when people characterize my project as aimed at “joy.” “So, Gretchen, tell us about how you try to live a more joyful life.” For me, the word “joy” invokes a rare, intense emotion; I don’t feel joyous very often, and I don’t expect to feel joyful in my ordinary day. But for other people, “joy” might be the right word.
To take another example: I have a note posted in my office to remind me of the frame of mind I want to cultivate. For a long time, this sign read, “Creative and confident,” but eventually I changed it to “Creative and enthusiastic.” Confidence has an overtone of posture and self-consciousness; it relates to the way I’m seen by others, or the way I view myself. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, has to do with the way I feel about something or someone else – it’s energetic, positive, generous, and social.
Along the same lines, I made the resolution to “Lower my standards,” but before long, I changed it to “Lower the bar.” “Lower my standards” suggests settling for mediocrity, while “Lower the bar” suggests the removal of obstacles – which is what I aim to do.
I’m fairly argumentative, and I used to argue with people about why my vocabulary was the most helpful. At last, though, I’ve come to understand that just as every person’s happiness project is different — because we each have our own mix of temperament, interests, and values — different vocabulary is appropriate as well.
Have you ever found that a change in vocabulary made a difference in how well you were able to stick to changes or to resolutions (or, if you prefer, intentions)?
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* Hooray! I just found out that The Happiness Project debuted on the bestseller list in Boston, Denver, and San Francisco — and was #1 at the airports! Yay! That news made my Monday morning very happy.
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