This chapter sets out the theoretical foundations of the book. It begins by introducing a cartographic theory of language, suggesting that words enable us to map our world. However, drawing on the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, it argues that cultures map the world in different ways – influencing how people experience and understand the world – as revealed most starkly by untranslatable words. The chapter argues that engaging with such words can be very useful – for academia and for people in general – as they can help us to refine our maps, facilitating a more nuanced and detailed appraisal of life. It concludes by introducing the research project upon which the book is based, Tim Lomas’ evolving ‘positive cross-cultural lexicography’ of untranslatable words pertaining to wellbeing. In doing so, the chapter explains the analytic process that constitutes the substance of the book, and introduces the resulting theoretical framework of wellbeing, featuring three basic dimensions: feelings, relationships, and personal development. These dimensions – which respectively represent the main ways in which wellbeing is experienced, influenced, and cultivated – are then explored in turn over the next three chapters.
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