Meik Wing, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, takes us on a journey around the globe to chase the keys to happiness.
by Julia Migné
Ranked “world’s happiest country” by the United Nations for three years in a row until its recent drop to the second place in 2017, Denmark is believed to have a secret recipe to reach the so sought-after condition.
It’s easy to then think that Danes have all the answers and know more about happiness, which translates to Lykke in Danish, than any other country in the world. But Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen believes otherwise. Meik is convinced that being happy is like going on “a treasure hunt to unlock the doors to a good life” and that many countries have found their own routes to happiness.
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” – Dalai Lama
The first question to arise when talking about happiness, though, is: how do we actually measure it? How can we quantify such a fleeting feeling? One thing he says is certain: money does not always equals happiness. And so the amount people earn cannot be used as a proxy to assess how happy they might be.
The subjective feeling of being happy might be hard to assess but is far from being impossible to estimate according to Meik’s new book, The Little Book Of Lykke: The Danish Search For the World’s Happiest People.
Taking us on a journey around the world, Meik looks at key parameters that allow communities to thrive in various countries. One of these parameters is called “togetherness” and symbolises the importance for people to be brought together and to feel a sense of community.
“The capacity of fire and food to bring people together is almost universal across cultures and geographical borders,” he explains. From Danish bonfires to eating like the French, Meik explores ways to bring people closer and also emphasises the strong link between having friends or neighbours to rely on to measure overall levels of happiness.
Research actually recorded a 2.7-point increase in happiness level between people who never meet socially with friends, relatives or colleagues compared to people who are meeting them every day.
“No people can be truly happy if they do not feel that they are choosing the course of their own life.” – World Happiness Report 2012
Freedom is another parameter, often taken for granted, which is strongly associated with how happy we feel. Being free to marry whoever or just to express ideas and thoughts without being censored is an important proxy of how happy people might be. Freedom is also being able to decide how to deal with time and a good work-life balance has been shown to be a crucial piece of our happiness.
Having good parental leave policies or allowing employees to regularly work from home are good ways to improve that factor and countries are slowly making progress on these issues.
Interestingly enough, another ranking on which Denmark is ranking first is on the percentage of people expressing a high level of trust in others. The Nordic country scored a whopping 89% while Chile ranked last with a depressing 13%. Trust might then be one of the essential ingredients to add to the happiness recipe. In that spirit, turning competition into collaboration in our professional lives sounds like a game changer.
Well designed, colourful and filled with interesting case studies from across the globe, Meik’s book will definitely put a smile on your face. More than that though, it will make you examine the way you live and will make you question your habits and mindset. So grab a blanket and a cup of tea and get ready to be transformed into a happier version of yourself.
Julia Migné is a multimedia journalist and wildlife photographer specialising in environmental issues and odd hobbies. She has written for Africa Geographic and BBC Wildlife among others. An endless traveller, she swears that she would visit one country for each letter of the alphabet.