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Embrace Hygge Like Happy Norweigans

Norway was just named the happiest country in the world. Why are they so darn happy and what exactly is hygge?

My interest in the word was peaked after reading the latest World Happiness Report, a survey of 155 countries, that was released just last week.

Once again, despite frigid arctic temperatures and months of darkness, the happiest people on the planet apparently live in Nordic countries.

As mentioned, Norway jumped up three spots to claim the title of “world’s happiest country” for the first time. Denmark, the previous winner for three years in a row dropped to second. These countries were followed by Iceland, Switzerland, Finland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Sweden.

In case you’re wondering, the U.S. came in 14th place, dropping down one spot from last year. Europe didn’t fare so well either. Germany was ranked 16, the United Kingdom 19, France 31 and Italy 48. Not surprisingly, people in the Central African Republic are unhappiest with their lives, according to the survey, followed by Burundi, Tanzania, Syria, and Rwanda.

In the end, as in past years, Norwegian countries took most the top spots. Could the reason they are so darn happy have to do with the Danish term hygge?

If you’re from or have visited a Scandinavian country, maybe you know about this funny word that’s hard to pronounce. To say the word, try puckering your lips and aim for a throaty word somewhere between hoo-gah and hue-guh. Kind of like the beginning of the song, Hooked on a Feeling. The good news is, it’s easier to embrace hygge than to pronounce.

Hygge is also difficult to define, but is translated loosely into the English word coziness and is associated with relaxation, indulgence, and gratitude. However, Norwegians would probably argue there’s much more to the word. Hygge requires being present in a moment – whether it be simple, soothing, or special – that brings you comfort, contentment, or pleasure.

The word refers to the ability to enjoy the simple and good things in life with people you love. Hygge can describe soft candlelight, comfort foods like a pork roast or home-made cinnamon pastries, sitting by the fire on a cold night with fuzzy socks, or simply being kinder to yourself and others. It’s about transforming an afternoon cup of tea into an event with friends. Some people translate the word as coziness of the soul.

So, let’s get back to this year’s happiness report and see what hygge has to do with the results.

The report looks at several happiness indicators, including a nation’s per capita GDP (gross domestic product, often used to measure a country’s economic growth) social programs, life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and corruption.

It should be noted that although people in Nordic countries are comparatively well off financially, the report proved that money does not equal happiness. This is shown by the surprising fact that Costa Ricans are apparently happier than much wealthier Americans. Another economic powerhouse, Japan ranked poorly at 51. Mexicans and Guatemalans scored happier than the Japanese, even though they are much poorer.

Some would argue that Norwegians are better able to appreciate the small but comforting things in life – or hygge – because they already have all their basic necessities in place. That includes free university education, social security, universal health care, paid family leave, and at least a month of vacation time a year. With their basic needs met, Nordic countries can focus on their well-being and what truly brings them a better quality of life.

Maybe that’s true, but I think we can learn a few lessons from the Norwegians and the way they live.

The idea of practicing hygge is carried over into their work as well as recreational activities. Working overtime and on weekends? Unheard of in Nordic countries! Most businesses shut down before 5:00 p.m. In addition, Norwegians have proven to be less materialistic than other cultures, appreciating low-cost activities and the more simple things in life. In other words, they focus on experiences instead of stuff.

A strong emphasis is put on quality time and sharing meals together as a family in a cozy atmosphere. Priority is given to maintaining cherished relationships and supporting their communities.

Yes, these countries have harsh weather, but these people are a hearty bunch who show their appreciation for nature and the great outdoors year round. In winter, most Norwegians aren’t sitting in their houses all depressed. They can be found skiing, dog-sledding, snowboarding, snow-shoeing, and enjoying the spectacular northern lights. During summer months, they take advantage of the warmer weather to hike, swim, cycle, and sail.

In the end, I think the report confirms that happiness has less to do with money and success and more to do with spirituality, our relationship with others, gratitude, a giving attitude, and being present and mindful.

And maybe adding a little more hygge to our lives.

So, go ahead. Eat that pastry guilt-free, invite friends over for a glass of wine by the fire, or luxuriate in a candlelit bath. Savor the moment and let the warm, fuzzy feelings flow.

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