How languages made me happier in 2017

It’s not that 2017 was easier or better than 2016. But my approach to life did change over the last year –  and the decision to put more effort into language learning has largely contributed to self-improvement and a happier state of mind, thus bringing benefits that span much beyond mere language proficiency. It’s cool to have become B2 in French and B1 in Italian, but languages have given me so much more than that this year.

By the end of November 2016, I was not feeling very happy – it was this sort of unhappiness that creeps from the inside and that feeds on itself. In mid-December I did a meditation retreat for four days. I took several decisions after coming back from the retreat, and most of them were related with spending more time doing things that were meaningful for me like drawing, learning languages, being creative, having fun or having more contact with nature. Stop wondering about the meaning of life, because, hey, it might not mean anything at all. Unless we try to fool ourselves by giving some sort of meaning to it. As if life was a poem with random words and we could make some sense out of it, if only for ourselves.

So on December 31st I set up my Instagram account and just before leaving home for celebrating New Year’s Eve with friends, I posted this:

New Year resolutions 2017: I’ve accomplished everything except sleeping better…

In January I joined the Instagram Language Challenge (#iglc) during the whole month of January and I posted videos of myself speaking French. Pretty awkward but also quite fun. Arriving home and studying French gave me a sense of purpose and achievement, which boosted my self-esteem.

I’ve also coupled my passion for languages with my love for drawing.  I’ve always loved drawing! For me, it’s one of the most relaxing activities, but I had totally neglected it in the last decade because it was not “useful” and it did not contribute to “productivity”. On the one hand, I told productivity to go to hell. On the other hand, I decided to “label” each drawing with a sentence or word in a foreign language (see the hashtag #wordcreate on Instagram):

Using drawings for language-related purposes

In April I wanted to go on holidays and none of my friends were able to come along. I decided to go to Italy by myself and about ten days before departure I started to study Italian. It was quite a challenge since I wanted to learn as much as possible before travelling (more about how I learnt Italian at the beginning and my first trip to Italy here). I fell head over heels for Italian (I love it much more than French), and I think I’ve learned it very quickly (not too surprising since Portuguese and Italian are quite similar).

So off I went to Italy. Solo-travelling was such an enriching experience and I became so in love with Italy that I decided to return for three weeks in August. As you can probably imagine, travelling by yourself makes you much more open to the atmosphere around you and to meeting other people than if you’re travelling with friends. The three-week trip in August changed me a lot and I became much more self-reliant. The feeling of constantly missing something that I could not name was replaced by a feeling of self-reliance. There was only me and a suitcase with seven kilos, and I was feeling at peace with myself and the world. Had I not been learning Italian, I wouldn’t have travelled to Italy for three weeks by myself.

No rules. By myself.

Don’t get me started on how speaking several languages enriched my travel experience in so many ways: meeting new people, bonding more easily, learning more about local culture, gaining a guided trip to Capri, and the list goes on.

Learning languages also made my life happier in Lisbon. I moved to Lisbon a bit more than one year ago, and although I already had friends there, I found it very difficult to meet new people at first. When you’re not a student anymore I guess it’s just harder to make new friends. Everyone has their own lives set and no time for new people. The good thing about being passionate for languages is that there’s always someone who speaks a language I want to improve and who wants to speak a language I can teach. That’s how I met Valentina, who became my friend. Later on, I organised some language cafés, and this also provides great opportunities for meeting new people with similar interests. I also feel that I’m positively contributing to other people’s lives and their integration in Portugal.

Finally, I started reading more with the side goal of language improvement. Only four books (two in Italian, one in French, one in English), but one of them is “Il nome della Rosa”, so it should count as two! My boyfriend has also given me a Spanish book by Carlos Ruiz Zafón for Christmas to make sure I don’t get out of books to read soon.

Learning languages made me happier in 2017 than I would have been, had I not set this goal for myself. In 2018, set goals that match your passions, and become a better and happier self.