A while ago one of the blog readers, Bob, e-mailed me the infographics you see at the top of the post. Honestly, while I really liked the picture, I already had a bunch of posts lined up and decided «отложить статью в долгий ящик» [to shelf the article].
Then a few days ago I picked up a copy of Jane McGonigal’s “Reality Is Broken” «в местной библиотеке» [at a local library]. «Отличная книга, кстати!» [By the way, it’s a great read].
To make the long story short, reading about happiness reminded me of the infographics and led to my asking a question «Что вам нужно для счастья» which I translated as “What do you need to be happy”.
Jarrod brought up an excellent point by asking why I translated it this way instead of “for happiness”.
Would «дословный перевод» [word-for-word translation] be the best option here? Or should I use «литературный перевод» [idiomatic translation]? As a non-native speaker (of either Russian or English), how important is it to you to have a translation that is a close formal equivalent even when a more idiomatic form exists? These aren’t just idle questions since your feedback shapes this blog.
But here’s the kicker. Did you see the title of the infographics? It’s called “What makes Russians happy”. Now, how would you translate this sentence into Russian? Try it now, but don’t peek…
Did you write down your answer? Ok, the way this particular research was announced in Russian media was «Чего россиянам не хватает для счастья». Wow, that’s like totally different, isn’t it?
The phrase «чего не хватает» [what’s missing] was translated as “what makes”. Why?
I think it’s because Russian language has a lot of phrases that use «не» without sounding negative (at least to the Russian ear):
- When making plans – «Не пойти-ли нам в кино» [lit. Why don’t we go to a movie]
- When hurrying to work – «Не пропустить бы автобус» [ lit. Wouldn’t want to miss the bus]
- When asking for directions – «Не подскажете, как пройти к музею искусств» [lit. Wouldn’t you tell me how to get to the art museum]
- When asking what time it is – «Не знаете, который час?» [lit. Wouldn’t you know what time it is]
This brings to mind an article I read last year in one of the glossy magazines. In it one of the researchers is quoted saying
Among Westerners, focusing on one’s negative feelings tends to impair well-being, but among Russians, that is not the case.
Speaking of well-being and «счастье», what do Russians need to be happy? Turns out, «большинству респондентов не хватает денег, любви и уверенности в будущем» [the majority of respondents need money, love and confidence in the future].
Other answers included
«Стабильность» [stability] – I was surprised to see this as a separate answer. Apparently confidence in the future does not imply stability.
«Возможность жить там, где мне бы хотелось» [Opportunity to live where I want] – my Russian friends are always surprised at how often I move. Moving to a different town or a different part of the country used to be very difficult and looks like for some people in Russia it remained so.
«Квадратные метры» [square meters] – are you puzzled? «квадратные метры» refers to the problem of «маленькая жилплощадь» [insufficient living space], a common problem since apartments tend to be small.
«Возможность заняться любимым делом» [opportunity to do what I love] – this seems to be a problem common in the US as well, at least judging by all the self-help books on the subject of “making money doing what you love”.
My favorite answer is «чего–то не хватает, но ощущению счастья это не мешает» [lit. something is missing, but it doesn’t interfere with the feeling of happiness]. First of all, it’s a wonderful realization that having everything isn’t a prerequisite to being happy. And then, there are two «не»s that add the unique Russian twist to the otherwise rather bland “something is missing, but I am happy” translation.