Why the Danish are the Happiest People on Earth

Why the Danish are the Happiest People on Earth

It’s well known Denmark often tops the list of the happiest countries in the world.  With a country that battles grey skies and harsh winter winds, it may initially be difficult to see why.  Perhaps it has something to do with hygge.

Like the best of Scandinavian things, it is nearly impossible to translate.  In the simplest of senses, hygge (pronounced 'hou-gir') is the art of building warmth and coziness within your daily life.  But those words alone do not encompass everything it stands for.  It’s a state of mind.  It’s the feeling of wholly being within the moment. The warmth of being a part of a community, friends and family alike.  It’s a deliberate mindset to celebrate the every day.

Despite being Danish in origin, North America practices this idea too – yet it may be unbeknownst to us.  Hygge is the feeling we have in November and December.  Our mindset changes.  We notice the beauty of snowfall and we subconsciously slow down.  Twinkling lights brighten up the dark sky.  We don oversized scarves and soft mittens.  The hot coffee tastes extra delicious after coming in from the cold.  Social gatherings with friends and family seem a little cozier and a little more special.  It reaches is height around Christmastime but then begins to drop in January.  The January blues.

So how do we keep that feeling alive?

It originates in your home and radiates into your social life. 

Start by creating a warm and cozy space within your own home.  That means large knitted blankets and snug materials.  Danish design is excellent for bringing the outside in.  Natural materials (wood, foliage) are ideal.  As with almost everything good, lighting is key.  Swap out the harsh fluorescent lighting for a sea of candles.  The home is a place to gather strength for the outside world - a safe haven.

With a cozy space created, relaxing is the next key.  Pour yourself a cup of anything hot (coffee, tea, mulled cider) and snuggle up with the book you’ve been meaning to read.  We can all afford to turn off the screens for a while and I'm terribly fond of coffee.

Creativity is also embraced by hygge - more specifically making something with your hands.  It can be anything that inspires you and it’s the perfect way to slow down and focus your attention.  Writing, learning to knit, and cooking are excellent ways to express creativity.

Food and friends are some of life’s simplest pleasures.  While it’s easy to hole up by yourself in the cold, dark days, social gatherings are important for fully embracing hygge.  Cook dinners with your friends and create that same warm, cozy, candle-lit environment with your friends.  We all yearn for togetherness.  For me, this looks like a casual brunch with great friends, that evolves into dinner, and then eventually turns into a late night session with drinks because nobody wants it to end.

A final step in adopting hygge is realizing the importance of the outdoors, as nature plays a significant role in our health (more to come on this).    The Danes do not fight their environment but rather they welcome the chance to be outdoors, even despite the harsh weather. Put on the warmest scarf and hat you can find and take a hike in the snow.  You’ll remember the feeling you had in November and December.  The cool air will be refreshing, and at the very least, that hot mulled cider will taste extra good when you come in from the cold.

The Western Hemisphere may still be working to fully adopt hygge, but it’s clear we should take a note from the Danes, who have been battling the cold, dark winters for a long time.  The Danes have found a formula for change for the better, to pursue a happier and fulfilling life.  With this insight, it couldn't be easier to pursue the change for yourself.  You can find those pleasantries in your life too.

If anything, it never hurts to try and warm your spirit.


Malinda Meadows is an Ohio native who was letting grief blanket her life.
She found healing through traveling and nature.  She discovered changes of location led to changes in her mindset.  It helped her process grief and forge a new path with greater optimism and happiness. Realizing the benefit of deliberate change, she now leads a more balanced and mindful life inspired by simple changes.
She blogs regularly at malindainthesnow.com to help others find change, however small, outside their box in order to live a happier, healthier life.

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