Lykke is the Danish word for happiness. After writing a best selling book called The Little Book of Hygge, he wrote a follow up that describes the different dimensions of happiness that Meik Wiking, as CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, has studied globally.

As you probably realize, happiness isn’t something simple to measure. Some people think happiness = money. Others may think of happiness as freedom. Or happiness as time. In Meik’s book, he defines happiness through a number of dimensions:

  • Freedom (time, work life balance)
  • Health (exercising, being active)
  • Money
  • Kindness (volunteering, random acts of kindness)
  • Togetherness (connecting to family, friends and those around you)
  • Trust

I am quite interested in the subject of happiness and I would also recommend Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project and The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha but here are some of the things that I liked from Meik’s book:

On experiences

You have probably heard before that rather than buying things, you are going to get more ‘happiness’ or ‘satisfaction’ from buying experiences instead. Sure that new laptop that you get is pretty spiffy but the trip that you made to Poland to visit the hydroponics plant garden and drink pea milk will bring fond memories for years to come.

Meik’s book suggested something that I never really gave a lot of thought to: he suggests buying experiences that are connected to something bigger. His example is to buy experiences that are related to the colour blue – to see the bluest oceans, to see how they make blue dyes, to eat blue things and other things you can do around the colour blue. I thought about what I could do – food and cooking is very meaningful to me so I could go somewhere (or not) and try to experience as many things related to food and cooking as possible (taking cooking classes, visiting food conventions, going on farm tours). This way, it’s not just about buying experiences but you can then tell friends that you have taken cooking classes all around the world to learn about a particular cuisine.

On togetherness

Meik talks about how the work culture of Danes is much different than the work culture of other countries (in particular say London or the United States). In Denmark, people get off work at 4 or 5 PM and companies are mostly empty after 5 PM – people do not work late and the reason is that they can then go home to spend time with their family. I think that’s in stark contrast to working at a large company where one of the ways to get ahead is to work longer hours and work harder than anyone else around you. Not that you can’t get ahead by maintaining a sane work life balance however.

I know the difficulties in trying to keep up with work and trying to maintain that balance at home – I can’t tell you to prioritize one or the other but I can tell you that a good way to prevent feeling like you are working all the time is to have strict boundaries on when you are working and when you are not working – this could be specific hours or it could be a specific location. When you are at work, you are working. When you are at home, you are not working.

On getting more time

Meik offers five ways to free up time:

  1. Cook more than you need so that you have leftovers to eat the next day
  2. Use up ‘slack’ time – any small amount of time you have waiting for the bus, waiting in line, waiting for food at a restaurant – use that time to do something such as reading or learning a language on your phone
  3. Two in one – if you are trying to decide whether you want to go for a walk or go for a coffee with a friend, why not do both? Get a coffee and then walk somewhere with your friend.
  4. Block social media – use an app like Freedom to block social media
  5. Apply Parkinson’s Law – ever feel like you get things done much quicker at work before you go on vacation? Or when you realize that people are coming over, your house gets clean super quick? Parkinson’s Law describes that the work that you have fills the amount of time you allocate to it. If you want to clean the house and you want to spend 2 hours to clean, you will spend 2 hours to clean even if you finish cleaning normally within an hour. As much as possible, you want to timebox activities
On helping others

“If you want happiness for an hour – take a nap. If you want happiness for a day – go fishing. If you want happiness for a year – inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime – help someone else” – a Chinese proverb.

A big part of being happy Meik says is to practice the act of helping others. Volunteering, studies show, has had a very positive effect on happiness. One of the best pieces of advice from the book that I liked was “Don’t ask. Just help.” We often see others that need help and rather than taking that proactive approach to helping them, we ask perhaps as a way of showing that we are polite. There’s nothing wrong with asking before helping but there are some situations that are very obvious where the other person needs help. Maybe their bag has suddenly split apart and their groceries are everywhere. Or they are moving in with big boxes and can’t reach the door with any of their hands.

So what can we learn about happiness from the Danes?

  • Find ways to get more time – that means getting more life than work or finding work that you love doing that doesn’t feel like work
  • Help others – spend some of your time volunteering or just being kind to others – a smile and a compliment can go a long way
  • Keep active – buy, rent or borrow a bicycle and use that to travel to other places. Practice walking meetings. Take the stairs instead of that elevator.
  • Use money in strategic ways to make you happier – buy experiences and not things.

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