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By Ashley Hamer
By most metrics, Scandinavia is one of the happiest places on Earth. The annual World Happiness Report routinely rates the Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland among the top 10 happiest nations, which experts credit to their strong social support, both among neighbors and through government programs. In that way, perhaps learning a few Scandinavian traditions can give us all a lesson on how to be there for our fellow humans. Here are five life philosophies from Nordic countries that might make you a little happier in your own life.
The Danish concept of hygge translates to something like “coziness of the soul.” It’s the feeling you get when you’re snuggled up under a blanket with a loved one drinking cocoa by the fire. As a life philosophy, it’s all about allowing yourself guilt-free indulgences, especially when the world is dark and dreary.
“Hygge could be families and friends getting together for a meal, with the lighting dimmed, or it could be time spent on your own reading a good book,” Susanne Nilsson, a lecturer at Morley College in the UK, told the BBC in 2015. “It works best when there’s not too large an empty space around the person or people.”
Lagom is a Swedish word that roughly translates to “just right,” or “optimal.” You’ve likely heard the quote “everything in moderation, including moderation”? That’s what lagom is all about. Whether that’s how much sugar to add to a batch of cookies or how much of your life you devote to your work, this philosophy urges a healthy balance that doesn’t swing too far in any direction.
According to Lola Akinmade-Åkerström, author of “Lagom: The Swedish Secret to Living Well,” lagom “pushes us to find our own individual levels of contentment, inner peace, and most natural operating state. What makes it a very Swedish (or Nordic) [philosophy] is just how often lagom pulls us from individual focus to group focus.”
If the other philosophies on this list are about taking time to enjoy life, sisu is kind of the opposite: It’s about persisting through challenges until you reach the end. “Sisu is a unique Finnish concept,” Finlandia University writes on its website. “It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity.”
It’s not about courage in the moment, but the kind of courage that has to last over time — after inspiration has sputtered out and the real challenge has shown itself. No wonder it’s also the name of a towering Arctic mountain — a mountain first ascended by a Finnish mountaineer.
Fika is just another word for coffee break — it was named by reversing the syllables in “kaffe,” the Swedish word for coffee. But it’s much more than a coffee break. It’s about retreating from the stresses of the day by bonding with the people around you, something you’d ideally do several times a day. In reality, however, the Swedish tradition of fika seems to be dwindling as younger people work longer hours and take less time for breaks. That doesn’t make this lesson any less valuable, however. Breaks are good! We could all use more of them.
The word “lykke” is simple enough: It’s simply the Danish word for “happiness.” But in those World Happiness Report rankings we mentioned, Denmark routinely ranks at the very top, so there’s a lesson to be learned in the Danish version of happiness. In his book “The Little Book of Lykke,” Meik Wiking divides this approach to happiness into six categories: togetherness, money, health, freedom, trust, and kindness.
To add more togetherness to your life, for example, try making family dinner a bigger to-do by lighting a few candles and playing relaxing music. To get a bigger happiness bang for your buck, pay for something now that you can enjoy several months from now — that way, the sting of the payment will be long gone from your memory when it’s time to enjoy the experience.