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The word alone conjures up images of snow, reindeer, mulled wine and northern lights. I’m feeling all snug and cozy just thinking about it. But hang on a minute, isn’t it a bit depressing to have almost no hours of daylight at all for months at a time? And then to suffer never-ending sunlight from May to August! Talk about extremes!
Despite the seemingly endless winters with arctic temperatures, and the sleep-depriving summer nights, the Northern European countries of Norway, Sweden and Denmark that make up the Scandinavian region, consistently rank among the happiest in the world.
What is Scandinavia’s Secret to Happiness?
While some of this happiness might actually be linked to genetics (really!), there are definitely aspects you can incorporate into your own life to inject some of Scandinavia’s secret to happiness.
Over the years, various Scandinavian words have had bizarre waves of popularity, to the point of cult-like fandom by some. It’s all the rage to have Hygge in your life, to live just Lagom, and to Fika with your friends. More recently, it is all about Plogging (picking up rubbish while jogging!)
So what do these words really mean? And are they the key to being happy?
The Danish notion of Hygge is somewhat hard to define. Hygge is based more on a feeling than any real thing. It focuses on the importance of life’s simple pleasures, creating a sense of togetherness, and the importance of being kind to yourself.
Hygge is being cozy, warm and comfortable. It is candles, fluffy slippers, scatter cushions and hot cups of tea. But, it is also a homemade meal shared with friends, an afternoon baking with your kids, or time spent sitting on a park bench watching the birds dance around the fountain.
As Meik Wiking writes in The Little Book of Hygge, you know hygge when you feel it!
The Swedish concept of Fika can also be difficult to translate without losing some of its meaning. While Fika is, in essence, a coffee break (preferably with something sweet!), it is much more significant than that. It’s about socialising and connecting with others in a meaningful way (time to put that iPhone away!). It’s about being present and mindful, slowing down and just pausing life for a short while.
Pair that with the other Swedish trendsetter “Lagom” – meaning “just the right amount” – and you have the key to the Swedish way of living.
Lagom is all about balance and moderation. The idea that everyone in society should have just enough but not too much. It is a healthier way of living by embracing a more balanced and sustainable lifestyle. Perhaps that is why Plogging has become so popular now – looking after yourself while looking after the environment too.
Linnea Dunne in her book on Lagom: The Swedish Art of Balanced Living goes into Lagom in more detail, but essentially it is about the idea that more than ‘just enough’ is a waste of time!
While the words are different by country (the Swedes might enjoy “Mys” rather than “Hygge” while the Norwegians call it “Kos”), these overarching Scandinavian concepts of enjoying life, being kind to yourself and others, and being mindful of the environment, is the thread that ties them all together. It is an unshakeable, deep-rooted part of Scandinavian culture.
Visit any of the Scandinavian countries any time of year, and you’ll find their people out in droves enjoying the world. They get home from work early (six-hour work day anyone? Move to Sweden!) and enjoy a healthy dinner with the whole family gathered.
Scandinavians are avid travellers, so you’re likely to run into a few Scandis on Phuket’s golden beaches or hiking Mount Kilimanjaro’s twin peaks. Escaping the harsh winter for a week to one of the Canary Islands is also popular, and not a bad way to store up some vitamin D in the process.
So, What IS Scandinavia’s Secret To Happiness?
Create comfort but don’t overdo it.
Be kind to yourself but spend quality time with others.
Sip hot cups of tea and indulge in a cake or two.
Embrace the outdoors, go for a jog….
and while you’re at it, pick up some of that rubbish!