Scandinavian countries are consistently reported as among the happiest nations in the world. Yet all the things we usually associate with living your best life–more money, fabulous things, heck, even SUNSHINE–are not found in abundance there.
So how is it that the Scandi people find so much happiness in their cold, dark climates? Take a closer look at some of these principles that area common among the Nordic nations and find out!
Hygge hit the world by storm a few years back when we all learned the Danish concept of coziness and connection. Hygge is not just about being comfortable. It’s about creating a warm and convivial atmosphere to enjoy with friends and family.
When I first learned about hygge, I felt like I’d discovered a word that had been missing from my vocabulary my whole life. It was more than just the feeling of snuggling up by the fire in a fluffy blanket. To me, hygge describes that wonderful time-warp that happens when you gather with people you care about and enjoy food, atmosphere, and conversation together.
Hygge is that warm glowing space where time stands still and hearts grow closer.
Experience some hygge this weekend with your fam by enjoying a cozy cup of cocoa and a good movie or board game. Leave space for conversation, not just entertainment.
Friluftsliv is a word first coined by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen as a combination of the Norwegian words for free, air, and life. It basically translates to get outdoors! The concept has been part of the Norwegian culture much longer than the word has been though.
In her recent TEDx talk, Lorelou Dejardins explains:
It’s about a simple life in nature without destroying or disturbing it. It has absolutely nothing to do with the commercialization of friluftsliv recently on social media, with people lining up on top of Norwegian mountains to take pictures of themselves.Lorelou Djardins, TEDx Trondheim
Friluftsliv doesn’t have to be some grand expedition. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s not. Try it out by going for a walk outside after dinner, or get outside and enjoy the sunset.
I used to have a neighbor that took her son outside everyday after lunch. I was often deterred by too much to do, or too much easy entertainment inside. Now, I have a daughter that takes herself outdoors every afternoon and I can SEE the difference it makes.
One of the fastest ways to change your mood is to take a step outside. Look around at something–anything–natural and just experience something real, not digitized.
Sometimes, I feel like an old granny yelling at my kids about their television shows.
Good grief, why are they so frantic?! In my day, our shows were funny, but not so intense.
It seems like entertainment keeps getting faster, louder, and more in-your-face.
But not in Norway.
Norwegians have a new national craze called slow TV. This author describes is as the deep breath of television.
What is it?
Just what it sounds like: hours long programs of life moving at the speed of, well, life. They literally watch the scenery going by on the train or cruise. One hit featured knitting, starting with the sheep shearing of course.
Slow tv forces the viewer to think about what is interesting and what is boring. You stop and consider the stories, the events. Where is that cow going and why is it alone?
This sort of slow thinking has been lost in our hyper-speed digital world, and I think our brains are suffering for it.
One way our family has experienced this is by taking family road trips without electronic devices. Yes, we forced our kids to look out the window, even as we passed over mile and mile of flat ranch land in south Texas. Sounds boring, but it’s one of our most memorable trips.
Scandinavians seem to inherently understand the value of other people. They manage conflict with calm, confrontation. They even use the same word for boyfriend and girlfriend (translates to “dearest”). All this goes to show just how ingrained their value for other people is.
Grow more happiness in your life by thinking of other first and showing equality to all. Teach your children how to manage conflict without suppressing their own emotions or insulting others. Show fairness to all.
Funny story, when my little cousin was small, she would often ask her mom to pour more juice in her cup. Her mom would reply that she had just poured plenty and more would be too much. Soon, my cousin would ask for more juice and specify, “not too much, just plenty.”
Lagom is a Swedish word meaning basically the same thing. You don’t have eliminate everything you own to find peace. You don’t need to cut all the carbs or whatever other extreme thing the world is telling you you need to do more, be more, have more.
“Just plenty” is all you need to be happy.
One thing I would encourage you to have more of is Fika.
Fika sounds like my kinda habit.
Simply put, it’s an afternoon coffee break, usually with cookies or pastries. I mean, who doesn’t want a little after school snack? Call it Fika and your milk and cookie break might just feel a little more posh.
The appreciation for nature goes beyond Friluftsliv. The Swedes are avid recyclers. The Danes are avid bicyclers. They all appreciate living in harmony with nature.
This appreciation for nature can be seen in Scandinavian design as well. Natural materials are a central aspect to the Scandinavian look. Colors derived from nature, windows to let in abundant natural light, and natural tone wood finishes are all part of living in harmony with the world.
Finland, Sweden, and Denmark have some of the longest maternity leave in the world. Norway offers employees 5 weeks of vacation every year and all weekends off. Employees are encouraged to step away from their work and enjoy time with their families.
In our house, we try to make weekends special for family time by limiting hand-held devices and phones. If we are going to have screentime, it’s going to be all together.
Even if you don’t have the kind of hours that the Scandis do, you can make the most of every moment by keeping those family times sacred and connected.
They Really Get into Food
I can’t think about Norway without thinking of Norwegian school bread (skolebrod) from the Kringla Bakeri Og Cafe in EPCOT at Disney World. It’s legit one of my favorite treats ever. And I can’t wait to get back there to have another one.
(By the way, if you’re dreaming of a trip to Disney World, you have to check out Disney Within Reach. LJ has a ton of tips on how to make Disney happen on any budget. Seriously, the woman goes once a month on a sub-median income. The tips in there are well worth the cost of the book.)
In the mean time, I’m going to try this copycat recipe.
Of course, Skolebrod is just the beginning! International Cuisine is all the rage in Norway! And it can be in your house too, by exploring some of the cozy and delicious treats of this special part of the world.
Try Swedish meatballs with lingonberries (a la IKEA). Danish Smorrebrod (think open faced sandwich) or Aebleskiver (between pancakes and doughnut holes) and glogg (mulled wine)!
Get your inspiration going with this book for all the recipes and inspiration you need to introduce this wonderful part of the world to your kids.
In general, there’s not a huge disparity between the haves and have nots in the Scandinavian countries. Everyone generally has the same level of income and lifestyle. As a result, they aren’t frequently bombarded with the pressure to keep up with the Joneses.
You don’t have to change your lifestyle or move somewhere where everyone has the same as you. You just need to practice contentment.
Remember, you’ve got your people, your coffee, your outdoors, and your fantastic pastries. Not too much, just plenty.
More could only complicate things.
When a certain culture consistently reports happier people, it’s worth looking in to how you can adopt their ideas to your own life.
And more than anything, it’s just plain fun to try out new ideas and foods and cultures.
Exploring the world right from our home is one way I enrich our homeschool, and more importantly, create a hygge for my family!
Which Scandinavian concept do you think makes the most difference? What will you do to add some happiness to your life?