BLOGS

Happiness as a new paradigm for human development

When we realise that happiness is the ultimate goal of human development, as pure magic, what we do in life starts making sense. I am a firm believer that we all need to realise that we need a world with more happiness and less misery, because when we are happy it is possible to be in peace, to achieve sustainable growth, that as human beings we are the best we can be.

garden lunch
Danish Hygge

Why Denmark Is one of the Happiest Countries in the world?

Exact to this day a year ago, I moved to Denmark. The country is not “foreign” to me as I both have family roots here, and I lived here for some years when I did my undergraduate. It is one of the best decisions I have made in all of my 51-year-old lifespans. Why? Because Denmark is my happy place and the society aligns firmly with my core believes and values for how a society should be.
And why is that?
The new World Happiness Report again ranks Denmark among the top three happiest of 155 countries surveyed – a distinction that the country has earned for seven consecutive years. For some years Denmark has ranked the top, this year Norway another Scandinavian welfare state ranks as the happiest place on earth.
The U.S., on the other hand, ranked 18th in this year’s World Happiness Report, a four-spot drop from last year’s report. I wonder why… Nah that’s a lie, I know why!
Denmark’s place among the world’s happiest countries is consistent with many other national surveys of happiness (or, as us, social scientists call it, “subjective well-being”).
Scientists like to study and argue about how to measure things. But when it comes to happiness, a general consensus seems to have emerged.
Depending on the scope and purpose of the research, happiness is often measured using objective indicators (data on crime, income, civic engagement and health) and subjective methods, such as asking people how frequently they experience positive and negative emotions.

Why might Danes evaluate their lives more positively?

Surely, Danes have a stable government, low levels of public corruption, and access to high-quality education and health care. The country does have the highest taxes in the world, but the vast majority of Danes happily pay their taxes: They believe higher taxes can create a better society. I share that opinion with my fellow countrymen.
The workweek in Denmark is on average only 35-37 hours. The family is very important to Danes and therefore balancing work and domestic life is not too complex. As the family life of employees is generally respected by Danish employers, it is not uncommon for many Danish workplaces to give you the opportunity to adjust your working hours based on your family’s needs. It is quite usual for Danes to live relatively close to their place of work which means that less time is spent on commuting.
Most workers hurry home after finishing work on time and family members normally gather together for a nice dinner. This is why business negotiations tend to take place at lunch instead of dinner although long business lunches are uncommon. Danes value their spare time highly which means that when they work, they work intensively but leave quite early to go home. Business people should not routinely expect to meet with their Danish counterparts after 4 p.m. on weekdays. Do not plan meetings for Saturdays, Sundays, or on national holidays. Not all Danes appreciate breakfast meetings, which should only be scheduled with due consideration to the particular situation. People in higher positions often have the opportunity to work flexible hours and suit their working hours to their other needs. Danes also have the right to five weeks’ holiday a year, of which three weeks can always be taken consecutively during the school summer vacation period.
Children are prioritized in Danish society and they are given space. Danes raise their kids in a way that puts an emphasis on such things as participation in decision-making and dialogue. All small children aged 0-6 in Denmark are offered day care, either in a Kindergarten or in a private home.
The Danish work environment reflects many aspects of Danish culture such as equality and tolerance. There is a tradition of delegating responsibility, allowing employees to participate in decision- making and investing in their further education and competence development. The well-developed welfare system enables women to participate fully in the labor market. Denmark is one of the most progressive countries in the world with regard to gender equality within the workplace and it has the greatest percentage of women working outside the home in comparison to other European countries. The participation rate of women is therefore high and many women (around 19%) hold top positions in Danish companies.
Again and perhaps most importantly, however, they value a cultural construct called “hygge” (pronounced hʊɡɡ-eh).
The Oxford dictionary added the word in June 2017, and it refers to high-quality social interactions. Hygge can be used as a noun, adjective or verb (to hygge oneself), and events and places can also be hyggelige (hygge-like).
Hygge is sometimes translated as “cozy,” but a better definition of hygge is “intentional intimacy,” which can happen when you have safe, balanced and harmonious shared experiences. A cup of coffee with a friend in front of a fireplace might qualify, as could a summer picnic in the park.
A family might have a hygge evening that entails board games and treats, or friends might get together for a casual dinner with dimmed lighting, good food and easygoing fun. Spaces can also be described as hyggelige (“Your new house is so hyggeligt”) and a common way of telling a host thank you after a dinner is to say that it was hyggeligt (meaning, we had a good time). Most Danish social events are expected to be hyggelige, so it would be a harsh critique to say that a party or dinner wasn’t hyggelige.
Research on hygge has found that in Denmark, it’s integral to people’s sense of well-being. It acts as a buffer against stress, while also creating a space to build camaraderie. In a highly individualized country like Denmark, hygge can promote egalitarianism and strengthen trust.
It would be fair to say that hygge is fully integrated into the Danish cultural psyche and culture. But it has also become a bit of a global phenomenon – Amazon now sells more than 900 books on hygge, and Instagram has over 3 million posts with the hashtag #hygge. Google trends data show a big jump in searches for hygge beginning in October 2016.
Denmark is not the only country that has a word for a concept similar to hygge – the Norwegians have koselig, the Swedes mysig, the Dutch gezenlligheid and the Germans gemütlichkeit.
In the U.S. – which also places a high value on individualism – there’s no real cultural equivalent of hygge. Income is generally associated with happiness; yet even though the country’s GDP has been rising and its unemployment rates have been declining, levels of happiness in the U.S. have been steadily decreasing.

What’s going on?

Income inequality continues to be an issue. But there’s also been a marked decrease in interpersonal trust and trust toward institutions like the government as well as the media. In the end, more disposable income doesn’t hold a candle to having someone to rely on in a time of need (something that 95 percent of Danes believe they have).
At its core, hygge is about building intimacy and trust with others. Gross National Happiness in Denmark is valued more than your income and assets and everyone has a voice and the freedom of speech and sharing your opinion is highly valued and trained within the school system from an early age.
Bhutan is another country that I have admired for a long time in terms of their: Gross National Happiness Index
The phrase ‘gross national happiness’ was first coined by the 4th King of Bhutan, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in 1972 when he declared, “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product.” The concept implies that sustainable development should take a holistic approach towards notions of progress and give equal importance to non-economic aspects of wellbeing.
Since then the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH) has influenced Bhutan’s economic and social policy, and also captured the imagination of others far beyond its borders. In creating the Gross National Happiness Index, Bhutan sought to create a measurement tool that would be useful for policymaking and create policy incentives for the government, NGOs and businesses of Bhutan to increase GNH.

The GNH Index includes both traditional areas of socio-economic concern such as living standards, health and education and less traditional aspects of culture and psychological wellbeing. It is a holistic reflection of the general wellbeing of the Bhutanese population rather than a subjective psychological ranking of ‘happiness’ alone.
Construction of the GNH Index

The GNH Index includes nine domains:

Psychological wellbeing
Health
Education
Time use
Cultural diversity and resilience
Good governance
Community Vitality
Ecological diversity and resilience
Living standards
The GNH Index is decomposable by any demographic characteristic, meaning it can be broken down by population group, for example, to show the composition of GNH among men and among women, or by district, and by dimension, for example, to show which group is lacking in education. The indicators and domains aim to emphasize different aspects of wellbeing and different ways of meeting underlying human needs.
There are some people who seem to think that happiness is the result of all the right wheels turning at just the right time.
It’s easy to be happy when everything seems to be going your way, but I think that defining happiness that way reduces it to a by-product of luck, or an accident, which it is not. In fact, I might even argue that luck is a byproduct of happiness if I was in a particularly feisty mood.

Veggie Garden - My Happy Place
In my HAPPY place this evening – My veggie garden, that I made with my oldest son

Happiness does not just happen.

Some days are good, but there are probably more days that are just mediocre or plain bad, and it’s on those days that the true nature of happiness is revealed. Have you ever met someone who stayed positive even when they’re having a bad day, and everything that can go wrong seems to be going wrong? If you’re having a bad day, too, just being near someone like that can be uplifting (although for others it is annoying, that usually just stems from jealousy).
People who are able to smile even through the worst of times have learned a very important lesson, the same lesson I stated above: Happiness doesn’t just happen.
Happiness is a choice!
That’s right, a choice. Not an accident, not a charitable gift from the universe. Of course, it’s nice to receive those gifts and easy to be happy when you do, but happiness is about choosing to see the adventure in every moment, choosing to understand that there will always be a light after the dark, that there is always good in every situation and every person, no matter how grim things may seem.
That’s the key to happiness: choosing it. It’s not an easy choice all the time, and it very well may be the last thing you want to do sometimes. When grief strikes, or when you just can’t seem to catch a break, sometimes you just want to sulk and stay upset, perpetuate the sadness. It’s a natural response, but it isn’t a required behaviour, it’s a choice. And choosing to be happy will make you a better, stronger, wiser, more longsuffering person.
We always have the choice to be happy. Learning to change our attitude is frustrating, but worth it in the end. When we choose to be happy, things tend to work in our favour, and luck seems to be on our side; and even if things don’t happen the way you want them to, if you choose to be happy, you can accept situations for what they are and make the most of life, no matter the hand it deals you.
I have carefully chosen how I live my life and how I have dealt with the challenges and sorrows life has handed me. Nothing has been given to me, I have earned it by making my choices and by listening to what my intuition has told me. I am happy that I did.

With My Horse Flippa
Meditating with Flippa

We all want to be happy. Why not make happiness a daily ritual and learn from those who have mastered it, like Bhutan and Denmark?

Choose happiness. Live it!

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