What Can Scandinavia Teach Us About Happiness?

For most people, the search for happiness is what drives them. It’s that everyday push to go to the gym or spend time with a loved one. It isn’t always that easy though. Sometimes, we wake up in the middle of the night worrying about that bill we haven’t paid, the argument we had with a co-worker or the deadline that’s looming on the horizon.

As we know, these things all have an impact on our happiness and most would say this is all part of living in the modern world.

As a health coach I speak with unhappy people all the time. You wouldn’t come to a coach unless you are unhappy, at least to some degree.

It could be that you want to drop those few pounds you gained through the winter or you want some advice about your technique. Whatever the reasons, I work my hardest to try and help them to solve their problems. And by doing this, helping them to try and find some level of happiness.

Finding happiness is very important. I want to be happy. You want to be happy. We all want to be happy, right?




Another Way?

So, what if I told you there were people living in the modern world and not too far from us that were far happier than we were.? That for them, the stresses in our daily lives don’t affect them quite so much as us?

Would you be interested in what they had to offer?

I know I would.

Let’s take a look at the latest World Happiness Report and see where these countries are and what makes them so happy.


Where in the World? 

Back in November 2017 I blogged that Norway had just knocked Denmark off the top spot in the World Happiness Report as being the happiest place to live in the world. The top spot had been held by Denmark since the 1970s.

The report is compiled using several indicators to gauge the happiness of a country’s population. These are:

  • GDP
  • Healthy Life Expectancy
  • Social Support
  • Freedom to Make Life Choices
  • Generosity
  • Perception of Corruption

There also positive and negative factors taken into account around how much a person laughs or how stressed they feel.

At the time of writing, Norway has been knocked off the top spot and replaced by Finland, another Scandinavian country. This news in itself isn’t that remarkable but what I personally find interesting is that the top five happiest places to live in the world are all in Scandinavia. They aren’t dotted around the world but are all planted just the other side of the North Sea.

In the World Happiness Report, the United Kingdom places at number 19, one spot below USA and several places below Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

So, what have these Scandinavian countries all got, that we haven’t?



Secret Sauce of Happiness

So, asked myself, what is their secret? How come they have the monopoly on happiness? What am I and we doing wrong?

After much research (google and the BBC) I found the Danish word “Hygge” which you actually pronounce as “Hoo-ga”.  A strange sounding word that I believe could be part of the reason why the Scandinavians are all so happy.

Every Scandinavian country has their own version of this word which when translated roughly means “cosiness” but I think that it means more than just this.

Picture the worst winter that we have in the UK. Dark nights, frost, rain and if we are lucky (or unlucky) we might get a couple of days of snow. In Scandinavia, in the very depths of winter, the sun will sometimes set for 17 hours and even longer. Conditions are consistently colder than anything we can manage. And there is a lot of snow.

If I were subjected to that, I know that depression would have set in. This is when the word “Hygge” and more importantly the concept behind it comes into its own.




“Hygge” is more than just a word, it’s a whole philosophy. “Hygge” is all about finding time for the small comforts. This could be snuggling under a blanket reading a book sitting next to an open fire or stroking the dog with your feet up, drinking a beer.

It’s the self-indulgence that matters. The time spent doing what you want and totally for you. It’s also about keeping it small and doing it more often. However, you shouldn’t take this as permission to drink ten pints of mulled wine and eat a Toblerone.

Scandinavians also don’t exhibit the boom and bust mentality that we in Britain tend to do. They wouldn’t over-indulge from November and then starve themselves from January. Instead they would demonstrate small amounts of “Hygge” throughout the long winter months.

Various people have tried to perfect the art of “Hygge”. They tell us that small spaces are good, with areas that are not uniform. So cosy Scandinavian kitsch is the key. I can imagine sitting on a lovely warm couch next to an open fire. Candles and a Christmas tree with me wearing a knitted jumper and bobble hat; but that’s just me. It can mean different things to everyone.

However, there are also some people in the older generations that believe that the youngsters aren’t getting “Hygge” quite right. They insist that it should involve spending time with loved ones and being part of a community rather than just spending time alone watching a box-set of Game of Thrones. They believe that this sense of community is key and you can’t reach “Hygge” without it.



What does it mean?

I’m not naïve so I am well aware there is probably a little more to being the happiest place on earth than just the concept of “Hygge”. Scandinavians do pay more in personal tax but they do get paid better. They also have the cheapest child care in Europe (The UK has some of the most expensive in the world) and they seem to have managed the perfect work life balance.

Having said all of this though, I think we have a lot to learn from “Hygge”.

I know that we don’t spend enough time doing things just for us. Personally, as a small business owner, I struggle to completely switch off. I’m always thinking about my next steps, have I sent out my bills, where is working coming from? I’m sure the same could be said for you in your own life.

We could all do with a little “Hygge” in our lives. You shouldn’t feel guilty for being a little self-indulgent. If it works in Scandinavia, why wouldn’t it work here?

But remember I said small indulgences.

We should learn to take pleasure in the small, simple things. We are always on the lookout for the big things that cause happiness. The marriage proposal, buying the new house you always wanted, having kids…the list goes on.

The trouble is that these don’t tend to come along all that often. If you live just for these momentous occasions life may have passed you by in between. We should learn to take happiness from the small things that normally fall between the cracks.

Surely, this is the key to the beginning of being happier for longer?


What are your thoughts?


Do you think that the Scandinavians have it right? What is your secret for happiness?


Let me know in the comments.


Be all you can be






(This post has been re-edited and expanded by myself from a blog post I wrote in 2017)


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