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Language and our perception of reality

Language plays a pivotal role in our perception of reality. As humans, we have harnessed language as a power of great force in our existence and is something we employ every single day. This in turn, has given us a natural advantage in life. 


I learnt about this idea of language through a course I did with Mindvalley called ‘Be Extraordinary'. Vishen, the founder has created a space with Mindvalley where mindfulness can be achieved through the understanding of how you can adapt and control the power of your mind. He aims to reveal the potential in life and how to best harness this potential using mindfulness to ‘bend reality’. This idea of bending reality is where you are in a state of having both a strong vision for the future as well as happiness in the now. All of this takes practice, but at its core, bending reality can critically change our perception of the world.

This perception is presented to us via the language we use and the language that is used with us. Vishen describes how we live in 2 different worlds: 1. the physical world, which is absolute truth where for example water is a liquid and everyone knows that to be true. But the second, 2. relative truth is the truth that exists only in our heads. This truth will differ immensely between cultures and people. The issue with relative truth is that it is “often taken to be absolute truth and this is what causes so many people to be stuck in the confines of what society expects from them rather than forge their on path in life” (Lakhiani). This ‘truth’ we often create for ourselves shows how powerful but also limiting language can be in our experience of reality.

People tend to become more stressed and anxious when they describe their life as such. If when people ask how your day is and you reply with “busy”, you will reduce yourself to only that experience. This is because thoughts inherently shape our world. The thoughts that we give reality to with language will consequently become our reality. 

Let me explain this with another example. In the 1960s, Anthropologist Robert Levy studied a group of people in Tahiti to try and find an answer for their high suicide rates. “After research and investigation, Mr. Levy found that there is no word or concept for sadness in Tahitian culture. While Tahitians felt sadness, they had no word to refer to their feeling” (Ezez 2006). Can you feel something if you don’t have a word for it? This study answers this question with a hard ‘yes’. You can feel everything, but language massively shapes your experience of those feelings. To not have a word for something limits your expression of it, and as humans we have a desire to express. This is why the English language uses so many foreign words to describe things that otherwise may be too complicated to. Increasing and tackling language is therefore vital to existence. 

So let’s consider happiness as an opposition to sadness. While we have happiness as a concept in English language, many people still struggle with it. This is because the way we perceive happiness is wrong. There is not one happiness and this word in itself already limits the experience  because it reduces it down to something people don’t know how to grasp. Happiness is and comes from so many things, which Vishen boils this down to three prominent pillars: 

1. happiness from experience - your own unique experiences that have made you happy 

2. happiness from growth - the happiness we get from growing and acknowledging our rate of self improvement  

3.happiness from meaning - when we have a meaning or a purpose in life that often has to do with serving others. As social beings and exist as a colony species that biologically explains to us why we are so dependent and willing to serve our own kind. 

If we break down language to change the concept of a word such as happiness, we can turn it into a force that we understand. We need to stop tying happiness to the future ‘what ifs' and apply it to our present. We can change, "I will only be happy if I get xxx” into, "I realise my life is not perfect, but I am happy with that". The danger is that we are so conditioned to believe that happiness in the future is the only way it can be achieved. Tie happiness to your current reality instead and consider how breaking the word happiness down can change and increase your perception of it. 

This only demonstrates the power we have in being able to use language towards our own mindfulness journey. To be able to acknowledge and refer to our experiences whilst also being able to change the language we use to set us up for success. Find words that are limiting in your life and try to change the way you use them. Instead of describing yourself as stressed could you not describe yourself as 'achieving’ day or as ‘maximising your potential’ instead? We create an emotional attachment to the language we use and it changes our view on what we experience. Language is essentially bringing life to thoughts and we can start to bring life to the positive ones with this power of language. I’m not saying this is an easy thing to do, but language is definitely something to be fundamentally aware of. 

Works Cited

Ezez. 2006. "Happiness & Sadness: Why is the suicide rate in Tahiti so high?".

Inglis-Arkell, Esther. 2014. "Can You Feel Something If You Don't Have a Word For It?". Gizmodo.

Lakhiani, Vishen. "Be Extraordinary". Online Masterclass, Mindvalley.

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