May is Mental Health month, and I thought it appropriate to touch on the topic of happiness. Finland was awarded 2018’s top World Happiness Country by The United Nations. The UN released its annual report ranking 156 countries, and it’s notable that Finland has either won or been within the top 10 spots for the last few years (Khan & Blau, 2018).
In fact, the top 10 spots usually include Scandinavian & Nordic countries. In addition to Finland, in the 2018 report included Norway, Denmark, Iceland, and Sweden. The only non-Scandinavian countries in the top 10 spots were Netherlands, Switzerland, Canada, and New Zealand (Helliwell, Layard, & Sachs, 2018).
What do these countries have that is so unique, and that ranks them so high on the happiness scale? Apart from being Nordic, what do they have in common? I wrote about Sweden’s concept of Lagom and how they strive for balance, but I wanted to look at this in more depth. Here is what I found.
Nordic Approach to Life
Much of their approach comes from the generalized outlook of providing people as much support to live their lives in an independent manner. What I mean is that most Nordic countries, if not all, provide healthcare, maternity and paternity coverage, affordable day care, education, and housing for the elderly, among others (Partanen, 2016). This could be considered free but is a result of high taxation rates. By providing all of these “basic” human services, the rationale is that citizens can make use of their money as they please.
It goes beyond just freeing up income. For instance, maternity and paternity coverage is provided because, at least in Finland, parents should focus on the needs of their child rather than on logistics, strategies, and practical ways in which to arrange for child care (Partanen, 2016).
It isn’t feasible for us to pack up and move to a Nordic country just to have basic services covered, and free up the rest of our income. But, perhaps we can learn from them on how else to live a happier life.
In addition to Lagom, there is the concept of Hygge, which is hard to define, but can explained as follows:
Hygge has been called everything from “the art of creating intimacy,” “coziness of the soul,” and “the absence of annoyance,” to “taking pleasure from the presence of soothing things,” “cozy togetherness,” and my personal favorite, “cocoa by the candlelight.”
Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with the people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life- or just be comfortable in each other’s silent company- or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea. (Wiking, 2016, p. vi)
In other words, it is about creating an environment or setting that allows us to feel comfortable, homey, cozy, at ease, and more than anything, safe. There are 10 elements (Wiking, 2016):
- Atmosphere- turning down the lights with the use of candles or soft lighting
- Presence- being in the moment, and putting away or turning off phones
- Pleasure- experience through foods, drinks, and sweets that make us feel good, such as coffee, candy, and cakes
- Equality- achieved through sharing tasks, responsibilities, and other resources
- Gratitude- appreciating all that we have for we may not have it for long
- Harmony- instead of competing, we appreciate each other, and we do not brag, and instead create a comfortable environment
- Comfort- creating a comfortable environment, through pillows, blankets, or others
- Truce- instead of creating drama, avoid discussing topics that can be contentious, such as politics
- Togetherness- focusing on building relationships
- Shelter- creating a place that is peaceful and secure
This is a simplified approach, but explains the basic elements involved in Hygge.
Happiness Practices We Can Use
It isn’t feasible for us to pack up and move to a Nordic country just to live a happier or cozier life. But, perhaps we can learn from them. We can find ways to implements most of the 10 elements listed above.
We can create the right atmosphere by using softer lighting, dimming down lights, and/or using candles, and bring in as many elements that give us comfort, such as blankets, throws, pillows, or anything that can help us feel at ease. We can be present and in the moment by putting away distractions such as phones, tablets, TV, or other types of screens, and giving our undivided attention to the people we are with at the moment. And we can do so while we indulge in food and beverages that bring us pleasure and provide us moments of joy. We can pitch in and help others when they need us, sharing in tasks, fostering cooperation and harmony, and focusing on relationships. We can be grateful for what we have.
Researchers who study well-being support these practices, and recommend the following (Newman, 2018):
- High-quality connections, either with people we know or strangers. I’ve written about connections, and you can read that here.
- Meditate, especially with loving-kindness meditation, which focuses on ourselves and those around us, even strangers
- Practice gratitude
- Exercise and movement
- Pursue goals for personal growth and connect with family and community, and reduce worries about mundane matters and what others think of us
In case you are interested in determining your level of happiness, try the link below and complete the Happiness Test created by Blue Zones. It takes 5-minutes to complete, and if you provide an e-mail address, it will send you report. Based on what the report says, you may want to revisit the suggestions here and find ways to implement them. Or you may want to implement them anyway, and simply focus on increasing the happiness in your life.
Helliwell, J. F., Layard, R., & Sachs, J. D. (2018). World Happiness Report 2018.New York, NY: Sustainable Development Solutions Network. Retrieved from https://s3.amazonaws.com/happiness-report/2018/WHR_web.pdf
Khan, G. & Blau. C. (2018). These are the world’s happiest countries. National Geographic. Retrieved on April 17, 2018 from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/lists/un-report-worlds-happiest-country/
Newman, K. M. (2018). Nine scientists share their favorite happiness practices. Mindful: Healthy Mind, Healthy Life.Retrieved on April 17, 2018 from https://www.mindful.org/nine-scientists-share-favorite-happiness-practices/
Partanen, A. (2016) The Nordic Theory of Everything- In Search of a Better Life. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
Wiking, M. (2016). The Little Book of Hygge- Danish Secrets to Happy Living. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.