Lessons in happiness from around the world
Good Housekeeping South Africa|March - April 2020
Author and journalist Helen Russell explores the global secrets to contentment that can change our lives
Helen Russell
Think of a place you associate with happiness. Somewhere in Scandinavia, perhaps? Australia? The Netherlands? We all have an idea of the ‘happy countries’ that regularly top the polls – but what if we could learn something from cultures we’re less familiar with? What if, in fact, there were dozens of unique happiness hacks from all over the world, just waiting for you to try?

I started researching happiness when I relocated from a busy London life to rural Denmark and wrote The Year Of Living Danishly (Icon Books), exploring what Danes do differently. Since then, I’ve been humbled and moved to hear from readers across the globe with wide-ranging perspectives. But the one constant has been an urge to share the happiness secrets of their own countries. So I began to investigate, interviewing people worldwide to pull together a catalogue of cultural customs that give horizontal perspective on happiness and what it means to live a good life.

It led to my new book, The Atlas Of Happiness (Two Roads). It isn’t a compendium of the happiest countries; instead, it’s a look at some of the concepts that are making people happier in different places. Because if we only look at the countries already coming top of the happiness polls, we miss out on the ideas and knowledge from cultures outside our own echo chambers. Nowhere is a utopia. Everywhere has its faults. But I set out to celebrate the best bits as well as national characteristics at their finest – because that’s what we should all be aiming for. Here are a few of my favourites….

NORWAY

Climb every mountain (and earn your lunch)

Norwegians enjoy enviable Scandi lifestyles and they also have a secret ace card up their sleeves: friluftsliv. This translates as ‘free air life’ and it’s the definition of happiness for most Norwegians. If you meet a Norwegian out in nature, their objective tends to be the highest mountain nearby and there’s a saying in Norway that ‘you must make an effort before you can have pleasure’. Most Norwegians believe you have to work for things; to earn them with physical endeavours, battling the elements. Only once you’ve climbed a mountain in the rain and cold can you truly enjoy your dinner.

Most Norwegians will embark on an adventure two or three times a week with friends and family, packing supplies and making a day of it, so friluftsliv combines nature, activity, food, good company – all proven to be good for our health and happiness. Scandinavians swear by an old adage: that there’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. So now I get outside, whatever the forecast, and ask myself: what did I do today? What did I climb? Where did I go? Because summits are there to be surmounted – and everything looks better with a little perspective.

INDIA

Try out some jugaad

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