The Nordic secret to happiness
candinavians know the “secret.” Whilst Denmark topped the list in 2016, this year Norway has stolen the throne. That “secret” seems to be based on concepts represented by the terms ‘hygge,’ ‘lagom’ and ‘koselig,’ among others. The first comes from Denmark, the second from Sweden and the third from Norway. One means enjoying the simple things in life, the other means “less is more” and the third is all about “living cosily.” Three concepts that describe embracing the moment.
Simple things like curling up under a blanket, snuggling up with your cat, eating chocolate, pairing wine with cheese or hanging out with friends. No pressure, no time constraints. Simply watching the sun set from the beach or settling down with a good book… Things so basic we could all be doing them, but instead, only people in Nordic countries seem to appreciate them. It could be because the UN’s World Happiness Report doesn’t only measure life expectancy and freedom, but also factors in income, social assistance and a lack of government corruption. Although it’s up to us to find harmony, create a chill atmosphere and try to avoid stress. It’s a lifestyle.
Dining with a Dane
Danes prefer eating in. That’s why they love the ‘Meet the Danes’ project that invites tourists into their home. The locals prepare a traditional meal, and then hosts and guests talk about their cultures and countries. A very ‘hygge’ way to spend an evening.
British author Helen Russel assimilated their attitude and described it in ‘The Year of Living Danishly,’ when she explored Denmark for a year in search of the “secret to happiness.” “I began by writing a column on living Danishly for the Telegraph newspaper in the UK and was then commissioned to write a book on the topic – since then there’s a lot of interest worldwide in how Danes do things differently.” Russel discovered trust is the backbone of their happiness. “79% of Danes trust ‘most people’” and this reduces their anxiety. Hygge is “about being present and celebrating the simple things and practicing gratitude.”
The state helps, says Russel, by moving away from consumerism and facilitating work-life balance. You can also feel it in venues. For instance, in restaurants that have embraced the ‘New Nordic Cuisine,’ described as ‘the fastest route to the most pleasure’. It’s about simple, locally sourced, sustainable produce prepared in a traditional way to enhance pleasure. “If a carrot tastes great just as it is, don’t mess about with it too much: just eat the carrot!,’ says the author.
Copenhagen’s establishments are the perfect embodiment of the concept. Höst uses traditional Nordic ingredients, including lobster, meat and cheese. Café Glyptoteket wows customers with both its palm trees and exotic plants, as well as its sustainable ingredients. And The Living Room is true to its name: sofas, blankets, pillows and a chimney. You can even feel it on the street, as Instagrammers know only too well. For instance, @tschang says that walking along Magstræde, one of the oldest streets in Copenhagen, “feels like you have gone back in time!”
But Danes don’t have a monopoly on happiness. In Sweden, apart from owning stores, Ikea kicked off the ‘Live LAGOM’ project. In addition to sustainable furniture, it promotes a community based on recycling and healthy lifestyles. A concept that pursues ‘just the right amount.’ The popular furnishing giant is actually behind some of the furniture in the Royal Palace, located in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town. This medieval cluster of cobbled streets illustrates the joy found in the little things, such as sipping a cup of hot chocolate at Chokladkoppen, in the centre of the neighbourhood.
Norway topped the list in 2017. Happiness is easy to understand when you visit Tromsø, 350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, a famed viewpoint for stunning Northern Lights. How can you not be happy running under the midnight sun? Or visiting locations as spectacular as Trolltunga, a cliff that juts out about 1,100 metres above lake Ringedalsvatnet. Kjeragbolten is also a source of calm and freedom. This boulder is wedged into a mountain crevasse in a jaw-dropping natural setting. It is all about finding the place and the time, and really seeing what you’re looking at. Taking the time to marvel at the amazing natural landscapes that surround us, and enjoying the simple life. ‘Hygge,’ ‘lagom,’ ‘Koselig’… Or the eternal ‘carpe diem.’