A Little Happier: Do You Like the Idea of a “Happiness Project”—or Does It Remind You of Homework?

As I’ve studied happiness and human nature, I’ve become increasingly persuaded of the power of words, the power of vocabulary, the power of metaphor.

To a degree that has really surprised me, I’ve seen that our attitude toward a habit or an activity can be dramatically changed by the words we use to describe it.

For instance, when I was writing The Happiness Project, several people told me, “Oh, you can’t use that title. No one wants to do a ‘project.’ That sounds like homework.” This reaction surprised me. I love the idea of a project! To me, that word is very compelling.

On the other hand, I’m not attracted to the metaphor of a “journey,” but a person who loves travel and exploration might frame their “Happiness Project” as “Start My Journey.” Or a person who loves art and design might frame their happiness project as “Design My Life.”

Consider the difference between “lowering your standards,” which suggests settling for mediocrity, and “lowering the bar,” which suggests removing obstacles. A small change can make a big difference.

Because the language we use has a big influence on our attitude, and therefore on our behavior, I’ve learned to pay a lot of attention to vocabulary. For instance…

  • Are you playing the piano or practicing the piano?
  • Do you spend time networking, or are you taking time to engage with others?
  • Is that room in your house an office, a study, or a library?
  • Do you have to think about office politics or office diplomacy?
  •  Do you spend time or invest time?
  • Are you studying nature or studying physics?
  • Are you going for a run or training for the marathon?

Have you ever found that a change in vocabulary made a difference in your actions? There are no “right” or “best” words to use, because we’re all different from each other.




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