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5 Ways Learning A Language Can Make You Happier

We’re all on the pursuit of happiness, and language learning may help us get there. Here’s a look at how you can boost your mood, according to psychology.

The Dalai Lama once said, “Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” He’s spot on. In order to find happiness, we have to put in the effort. One path to follow is that of lifelong learning. Studies show that learning new things can improve the way we feel, and learning a language, in particular, can have incredible effects on our mood. Here are five ways taking up a new language can make you happier.

1. Learning As An Adult Helps Boost Self-Esteem

Education doesn’t have to stop when you graduate college — and it shouldn’t. Working to improve yourself throughout your life is a crucial part of human development. Plus, it makes us happy. A review of multiple studies, conducted by researchers at the University of Cambridge, found “robust evidence that adult learning leads to increases in self-esteem and self-efficacy.”

A study from the Institute for Employment Studies determined that 80 percent of learners between the ages of 50 and 71 reported a positive impact on at least one of these: their enjoyment of life, their self-confidence, how they felt about themselves, their satisfaction with other areas of life and their ability to cope with everyday problems.

2. Learning New Words Is Like Eating Chocolate

What does learning a language have in common with sex and chocolate? A study in Current Biology found that successfully learning the meaning of new words when studying a foreign language activated a part of the brain called the ventral striatum, where reward processing occurs. This region, sometimes referred to as the brain’s pleasure center, is also activated when you have sex, gamble, or eat a piece of chocolate. Put simply, these activities make you feel good. And learning a new language is way less risky than gambling!

3. Making Progress On Goals Increases Well-Being

You know that great sense of accomplishment you feel when you cross another completed task off your to-do list? Achieving the goals we set for ourselves makes us happy, and learning a new language is certainly a worthy goal to pursue.

The way in which our “subjective well-being” (our self-reported levels of happiness and life satisfaction) and the pursuit of our goals interact is cyclical. Essentially, when we make progress on our goals, our subjective well-being increases. That increased happiness motivates us to continue working toward our goals, which makes us happy, and so on.

4. Learning Helps You Get In The Zone

Defined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the concept of “flow” is what happens “when you are really involved in this completely engaging process of creating something new.” In other words, you’re in the zone — entirely focused on the task at hand and tuning out any external factors. Csikszentmihalyi says being in flow allows you to forget outside concerns, like problems in your home life, as well as internal ones, like feeling hungry or tired. This “moment of ecstasy” and total mindfulness could be the key to increasing happiness in our everyday lives.

What does this have to do with language learning? Well, one of the ways to enter flow is by learning new skills. When we’re totally engrossed in mastering a challenge, like learning a language, it can help us return to the flow state.

5. Social Interactions Bring Joy

Humans are social animals. Our interpersonal connections are extremely important to our sense of belonging and our overall happiness. Speaking more than one language increases our ability to forge new friendships, simply by expanding the pool of potential friends to include those whose native language isn’t English. A second language allows us to interact with new people at home and when we’re traveling abroad. Not only does this social interaction make us happy, but it also gives us a confidence boost by reinforcing the idea that we can successfully learn a new skill and put it to use.

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