Libraries are magical places. Unlike looking for books on Amazon or Chapters.com where you are presented with book selections based on previous choices; wandering around a library allows you to stumble upon all sorts of interesting things that you had no idea existed. And, if you have a library card, it’s all free! Such was the case the other day when I stumbled upon the little gem entitled The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.
What is Lykke?
Lykke is the Danish word for happiness. According to Wiking’s research (based on the combined average of World Happiness Reports 2013-2017) Dane’s are the happiest people on the planet…followed by Swedes and Norwegians to round out the top three.
Wiking suggests that the reason for Denmark’s high happiness rating is due to community norms around togetherness, freedom, trust, and kindness; as well as those around money and health. If you are interested in learning the details of Wiking’s theory, I recommend his book as an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.
A Definition of Happiness
As discussed in last week’s post on balance, the definition of happiness is also individual. What makes me happy, may be misery to my neighbour. That being said, Wiking provides a helpful framework to look at happiness. He suggests that happiness can be divided into three categories: the affective dimension, the cognitive dimension and eudaimonia.
When we are operating in the affective (or hedonic) dimension we’re thinking short-term. What was our mood today? Sad, scared, anxious, happy? In the cognitive dimension we take a step back and look at our live overall. Wiking asks:
“How happy are you in general? Think of the best possible life you could lead, and the worst possible. Where do you feel you stand right now?” “When trying to evaluate happiness, the important information is what your dream is and how close you feel to living that dream.”
The concept of eudaimonia takes happiness one step further. Eudaimonia is the Ancient Greek work for happiness and is based on Aristotle‘s perception of happiness–i.e. happiness comes from living a meaningful and purposeful life. If you’d like to read more about the ‘meaning of life’ you can check out this previous post.
I think that it’s safe to assume that we all want to be happy. In fact, it’s often a motivating factor in why we behave the way we do. In some cases, we even go so far as to believe that we have a right to be happy. In at least one country, the right to happiness is codified in their founding documents. The United States Declaration of Independence gives citizens the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.
As with most things that we want very badly, we are seldom content to let them come to us–instead we chase them. Advertisers know this. Consumerism is based on the idea that we will buy things that we think will make us more popular, thinner, fitter, smarter…ultimately happier.
Not only do we chase happiness, but in today’s world of ‘fitbits’ and other ways of constant monitoring, there are ‘happiness apps’ that use results of research into brain science and happiness to give users daily exercises that will help to improve their overall state of happiness. If you’re interested, you can check out Psychology Today’s review of the Best Happiness Apps of 2018.
What if happiness is like a unicorn? In fairy tales, we learn that if we are looking for a unicorn we’ll fail if we chase them directly. Instead, we need to sit quietly and wait. She will come to us, and not usually full-on, but glimpsed out of the corner of our eye.
I like the idea of happiness being somewhat mystical–like unicorns. It comes when we’re not looking for her. We can put things in place to encourage her to visit, but we can’t force her to come…or stay forever.
If we measure happiness from the affective standard, it’s easy to look at happiness as something to grasp and get attached to. This can only lead to disappointment. However, if we think of the long game, happiness over time, we can relax and not get so caught up in our ‘internal weather’.
Happiness and Depression
There is a time when we do need to be aware of our daily happiness–if we suspect that we may be suffering with depression. One of the symptoms of depression is the absence of happiness or no longer finding joy in activities that used to fulfill us.
trouble focusing or concentrating
loss of interest in pleasurable or fun activities
sleep issues (too much or too little)
craving unhealthy foods
If you have been experiencing any of the these symptoms for more than a few weeks, you may be dealing with depression, and need to seek medical support.
Happiness…individual, illusive and part of what makes life worthwhile. May she find you!
And now what is happier than a baby goat and kittens? Enjoy!