We’ve come a long way in understanding the importance of mental health and reducing stigma around mental illness.
Words reflect our state of mind. At the end of 2022, the Global Language Monitor, which tracks the most-used words in English, declared “denier” its word of the year. Merriam-Webster’s most looked-up word was “gaslighting.” Collins announced “permacrisis” as its top word. Oxford chose “goblin mode” and Cambridge chose “homer,” a word that caused many Wordle players to lose their winning streak. These words suggest that as a society we are focused on uncertainty, anxiety, rebellion, and distractions such as five-letter word games.
The start of the new year has long been a time for setting new intentions. Whether we make New Year’s resolutions or not, many of us pledge to exercise more, eat healthier foods, learn a new skill. We resolve to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, work smarter, read more books, or any number of other goals to improve our health, happiness, and bottom line. In recent years, the New York Times and others have been challenging people to choose a positive word to start the year. A word that focuses our attention and helps to motivate us when times get tough.
Many people who practise yoga and mindfulness meditation report that mantras—words or phrases that are repeated, sometimes while sung or chanted—help them to feel calm and grounded. Many religious groups incorporate mantras in their spiritual practice. And athletes use mantras to visualize success and focus their efforts. Recent scientific studies have started to suggest that mantra-based meditation practices can have a positive effect on mood and brain function. There is some evidence they can improve mental health for the general population.
Experiencing positive emotions leads people to see more possibilities in their life. Citing research by psychologist Barbara Frederickson, bestselling author James Clear says experiencing joy, contentment, and love helps to build skills and resilience that can help counter negative emotions, such as high anxiety and depression. Positive emotions lead to a more positive outlook, both in the short term and also later in life.
So what have we got to lose? What word will motivate you this year?