Stress and the toils of daily life are not new to us, so it is good to be reminded of what happiness means. That’s why The Happiness Museum has opened its doors to the public in Copenhagen.
The Happiness Museum’s first exhibition gives us a tour of what happiness looks like in different countries. It features interactive activities and brings us through a journey of happiness through time.
Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (HRI), says the museum is the result of the many requests to visit their office. They decided to create a space where people can understand and experience their findings better. Perhaps it will give us an insight as to what makes us happy. Or it might simply bring a smile to our faces.
How do I know if I am happy?
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” — Mahatma Gandhi
From the numerous attempts to measure happiness despite its apparent subjectivity, it appears that happiness does matter to us. Since only you can determine if you are happy, many measurements of happiness are self-reporting questionnaires with scoring systems. This also allows us to assess ourselves and our actions over time.
A well-known example is the ‘Be Happy Index’ (BHI). Developed by Dr Robert Holden, it was first featured in BBC’s documentary How to be Happy. The BHI is also recommended on Oprah’s website. Other surveys include the ‘Authentic Happiness Inventory’, developed in 2005 by Christopher Peterson, psychologist and professor at the University of Michigan; the ‘Subjective Happiness Scale’ (SHS), created by Lyubomirsky and Lepper in 1999; and the ‘1-10 Happiness Scale’. There are also many Apps in the market designed to track happiness.
Happiness is “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile.” — Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness
Signs of happiness can be emotional: laughing and smiling are a physical expression of this. Wiking states that other, less transient dimensions, such as well-being and overall satisfaction with life should also be evaluated.
Next Stop: Happiness
The Happiness Research Institute is an independent think tank that takes a scientific approach to find out what makes some societies happier than others. The 2011 UN resolution, stating: ‘The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal’ inspired Wiking.
The institute aims to include well being as consideration for policy and decision-makers to improve the quality of life for citizens. It looks broadly at three categories that can have an impact: genetics, policies, and behaviour. We may not be able to change our genetics, but we can influence policies and choose how we behave. Bhutan, for example, uses an index to measure Gross National Happiness. This helps the country to prioritise collective happiness as a goal, rather than economics, to guide its policies.
The World Happiness Report which started its surveys in 2012 ranks 156 countries based on how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be. It looks at the satisfaction measured in six areas: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust, and generosity. Also, each year’s survey concentrates on a theme: in 2018, it looked at migration within and between countries; in 2019, it focused on happiness and the community.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Since the start of the report, Nordic countries including Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Iceland have consistently ranked near the top. Finland has named the happiest country in the world for three years running.
It may be puzzling why people living in a cold climate with long periods of darkness, and who pay high taxes seem to experience the greatest happiness.
Finns are generally reserved and may not seem outwardly happy. But citizens often cite equal opportunity as a reason for a happy life and Finland is a long-time champion of equality, with a supportive social system. It was one of the first countries to advocate for a zero-hierarchal level workplace and has one of the smallest gender pay gaps. Starting in 2021, paid parental leave will be extended to nearly seven months, regardless of gender. Many Finns also attribute feeling well to being close to nature.
Danes happily pay higher taxes because they believe it can create a better society. They have a stable government and it gives them access to high-quality education and health care. Danish psychologist Marie Helweg-Larsen says: “Trust is a factor in happiness.” She thinks that the Danish concepts of pyt (an “oh well” or “don’t worry about it” attitude) and hygge (the now trendy pursuit of intentional intimacy) help contribute to a stress-free life and strengthen trust.
Each culture and each individual is different when it comes to what makes people happy. Perhaps getting to know what some of these things are can inspire us to improve our own well being and state of mind.
And perhaps an obvious place to start would be at The Happiness Museum.