September 25th, 2023

Want the key to happiness? Ask the Scandinavians

If scientists figured out a way to bottle happiness, it would be the best-selling product of all time. 

Many people spend their entire lives striving to be happier. While life will always have its ups and downs, you may relate to the feeling that things could always be better – but the question is: “How can we actually become happier?”

While it’s easy to look for happiness in trends, social status, and material belongings, the data says that true happiness is a way of life. 

Interestingly, people in a certain region repeatedly report the highest happiness statistics in the world. That region is Scandinavia.

Read on to find out how the Scandinavians appear to have cracked the code to happiness, and how you can learn to “be more Scandi” in your own life.

The World Happiness Report 2023 puts Finland and Denmark at the top of the list

The 2023 World Happiness Report places Finland and Denmark in the top two spots, with Sweden and Norway ranking sixth and seventh respectively. By comparison, the UK came 19th in the list.

The report bases its findings on many criteria, including:

  • Perceptions of corruption within the country
  • Fiscal generosity
  • Freedom to make life choices
  • GDP per capita 
  • Healthy life expectancy
  • Social support.

So, why did Finland and Denmark top the list in these areas? 

It appears that a mixture of structural support (low reported corruption and high reported social care systems) and emotional wellbeing (high generosity levels) comprise the true meaning of happiness in these countries.

Yet beyond the things outside our control – governmental and structural factors – there are still things we can learn from Scandinavian cultures about the meaning of happiness.

Contentment over joy – how Norway, Sweden and Denmark have cracked the happiness code

In 2017, Norway was named the happiest country in the world by the World Happiness Report. In fact, over the last decade, Nordic and Scandinavian nations have repeatedly topped the list – and much of this can be attributed to the economic factors you read about above.

In addition to this, there’s a socio-emotional phenomenon that could have influenced these rankings. The Norwegians call it “koselig”; the Swedish word for it is “mys”, and the Danish say “hygge”. 

Although there is no specific word in English, the concept is relatively simple: “hygge”, “mys” and “koselig” describe a feeling of cosiness, contentment, and connection with the world. 

In short, a sense of balanced wellbeing is often seen as the goal in these cultures – trumping soaring feelings of joy, ecstasy, or excitement.

Indeed, it could be that the key to happiness, according to these populations, is to manage your expectations and prioritise a cool, calm, centred feeling of contentment. 

This can be challenging when faced with life’s stressors. But by adjusting your goals to reflect peace and wellness over massive achievements and big, exciting life events, you could find yourself feeling happier day to day.

While it’s normal to dream of achieving big things and enjoying milestones, the Nordics and Scandinavians have wisely realised that it’s the days in between these life-changing moments that count. 

So, here are three ways to cultivate more “koselig”, “hygge” and “mys” in your life. 

1. Prioritise simplicity 

One of the main principles of this phenomenon is simplicity. While having a comfortable material life has been proved to be conductive to happiness, excess or indulgence in material things doesn’t always increase your wellbeing past a certain point.

If you often get caught up in seeking happiness through possessions, trends, or “stuff”, try adopting a Scandinavian mindset and prioritise simplicity for a change. 

De-cluttering your home, saying “no” to social occasions that you don’t actually want to attend, and leaning into the things that bring you peace could all help achieve this. Life can be a whirlwind if you let it get ahead of you, so why not try centring simplicity in your day-to-day life?

2. Consciously make note of your gratitude

Negativity is an insidious feeling: it can creep up on you and make everything in your life feel like a burden. 

Ignoring the negatives and being relentlessly positive can be exhausting, but always seeing the bad in a situation can bring you into a state of constant discontentment – the opposite of the “koselig” you’re aiming for.

If you feel you sometimes miss the positives of most situations and go straight into complaining, try consciously noting your gratitude. It could be as simple as thanking your spouse for a small act of kindness, or taking the time to write down a few good things that happen each day.

3. Spend more time outside

A positive connection with nature is something that the happiest cultures all seem to have. In our busy lives, it’s hard to find time to wander off into the wilderness and reconnect with the earth – but a daily walk, for instance, can help settle your mind.

And, when you do so, try to exercise the above two steps: simplicity and gratitude. Rather than letting your headphones do the talking, let nature engage your sensory curiosities and take deep breaths as you do so.

All of this can help you focus on your wellbeing – your “koselig”, “mys” or “hygge”. 

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