My professor started off class recently by briefly mentioning something about how people from Denmark are the happiest people in the world and that Denmark is known as the happiest country there is. It had absolutely nothing to do with our topic that day, but for the following few days the thought just seemed to stick with me. Why Denmark? What makes the people of Denmark so significantly happier than anywhere else? Is this actually a proven fact, or just someone’s opinion? And most of all, what can the United States do to be happier? Due to my strong belief in the importance of genuine happiness, I decided to do some research on the topic. It turned out my professor was right. I even found something called the “World Happiness Report,” which is a document that consists of over 156 pages of research in eight chapters that aims for “bringing the study of happiness into public awareness a public policy.” This document, as well as many more I found, support the fact that Denmark is number one.
Okay, then I believed it, but I still wanted to know why. According to The Huffington Post’s report on the matter, there are six key factors [identified in the World Happiness Report] that represent a country’s happiness level, “The six factors for a happy nation split evenly between concerns on a government—and on a human-scale. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.” So— why Denmark? While I did find many legitimate reasons, such as a stronger parental support system, health care being a civil right, consistently practiced gender equality and an agreed sense of collective responsibility, there was one term I came across that I think is their ultimate key to success. The answer is a Danish term called “hygge.” While hygge is a term used primarily by the Danes, it is Norwegian in origin and is difficult to fully explain to those who are unfamiliar with it. The basic definition, according to a YouTube clip by VisitDenmark, is the feeling of happiness caused by the appreciation of simple things, such as being in a good social atmosphere and the feeling of coziness. It can be caused by riding the best bike a shop has to offer, by enjoying your favorite beer from the local bar or from eating a bowl of porridge and appreciating the way it brings one back to the coziness of his/her childhood.
I think this is a term that everyone should bring into their lives. I think we need to slow down and pay more attention to the little things that happen throughout our day that make us smile. Like seeing a baby giggle, or catching one awkward line of a stranger’s conversation, or leaving your house early enough to stop for a coffee on your way to wherever you’re going, or even just forcing yourself to find one good aspect in a person or situation that seems like it sucks. Because you know what? It’s pretty hard not to be happy when you’re looking at reasons to smile. So, next time you find yourself smiling, take a second to stop and just appreciate whatever it was that made you smile.
Rebecca Falk can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org