5 Words for Happiness and Purpose From Around the World

Fab Giovanetti


Photo by Vie Studio from Pexels

I feel like these days more than ever we need to find the good around us.

As May is Mental Health Awareness month, it really shines a light on the importance of making a conscious appointment with the idea of feeling good and being fulfilled and purpose-driven.

A few years ago, different words from different languages started popping up in magazines, bookshelves, and online publications. What did these words have in common? All of these words were relating to a feeling, either a feeling of happiness or peace or contentment.

I love the fact that these words are tied in with specific cultures and have a long history of traditions. I must disclaim that, as a language graduate, (retired) translator, and a semantics lover, I also have a particular affiliation with such terms.

The self-development world is been swiped up by a very unique multilingual set of words and, in times like these, there will be nothing better than going back and looking at some of them.

Ikigai — purpose

One of my all-time favorite words, I discovered Ikigai first when talking about writing purpose. Yet, purpose is something that we can find in a lot of areas of our life to give us that unique drive.

Ikigai means almost literally a reason for being and showcases the importance of getting clear on our purpose and legacy.

As Franklin D. Roosevelt said:

“Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

What is your Ikigai? What gets you out of bed in the morning? Which legacy can you create for the future?


Scandinavian concept Hygge swiped up the world a few years back, taking the design world by storm, yet finding a new meaning to the idea of living a simple life, enjoying the little things.

The exact English translation is contentious, and better described through actions and qualities than words. Even if the design world first went hot for Hygge, I find that the word has such powerful connotations that go beyond the idea of coziness and comfort.

Hygge can be seen as striving for contentment and wellbeing through enjoying the simple things in life, something right now is more important than ever.

What are the small things you can enjoy right now in your life?


Lagom, the Swedish concept of “not too much, not too little,” was the next word to get hyped in the late 2010s.

Lagom translates to “enough, sufficient, adequate, just right.” Unlike Hygge, which aims to capture a feeling, Lagom is an ethos of moderation, and something I am learning to adapt in my work life, especially.

One of my dearest friends refined the idea of pulling back 25% and for me, this is what Langom is about. Not giving 100% at all times, and always leave something back in the tank.

How can you find more balance and moderation in your life right now?

Pura Vida

Simply translated, it means “simple life” or “pure life”, but here in Costa Rica, it is more than just a saying — it is a way of life. Costa Ricans (Ticos) use this term to say hello, to say goodbye, to say everything’s great, to say everything’s cool.

More often than not, happiness and meaning often feed off each other. These simple words, whose origins no one truly knows, represent an invisible magic spirit that is all-encompassing when you’re there and which is very real and extremely powerful, it’s not just some words.

The more meaning we find in life, the happier we typically feel, and the happier we feel, the more we often feel encouraged to pursue even greater meaning and purpose.

How can you find small pockets of happiness in your daily life? How can you achieve that feeling for yourself?


I left the best for last (as we mostly do). Niksen is a very powerful Dutch word, as it means, well, doing nothing. This was yet a Northern European trend that came to my attention as more and more people being embraced it as a way to combat our increasingly busy and often stressful lives.

Practicing Niksen could be as simple as just hanging around, looking at your surroundings or listening to music — the only caveat — this has to be without purpose and not done in order to achieve something or be productive.

This may feel like a U-turn from the idea of finding a purpose through your Ikigai, but indulge me in this idea just for a second. This is yet another kind of happiness, one that almost brings us back to being at peace with the idea of boredom.

Whereas mindfulness is about being present in the moment, Niksen is more about carving out time to just be, letting your mind wander rather than focusing on the details of action and trying to control anything.

Can I make time this week to just be? When can I make that time for myself to let go of any agenda?

“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, or worn. It is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace & gratitude.” — Denis Waitley

Overall, whether you want to focus on intention and purpose, or simply pull back 25% and carve time to just be, taking the time to ask yourself powerful questions to make happiness a more conscious effort can benefit us whilst we adapt to a new way of living.

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