The Atlas of Happiness: Discovering the World’s Secret to Happiness with Helen Russell

Best selling author Helen Russell posing for a photo
Posted: 4/4/2019 | April 4th, 2019

A number of years in the past, I learn the e book The Yr of Residing Danishly by Helen Russell. I believe it initially got here up as a urged e book on Amazon. I can’t totally keep in mind. However, I caught it in my queue, ordered it, and it sat on my bookshelf till it was time to learn it. I couldn’t put it down. It was humorous, properly written, fascinating, and an insightful look into Danish tradition. It was one among my favourite books I learn that yr.

Final yr, I by some means satisfied Helen to talk at TravelCon and received to fulfill her in particular person. Now, she has a brand new e book out known as The Atlas of Happiness. It’s about why individuals in sure locations are happier than others. It’s an exceptional e book (it is best to get it). In the present day, Helen shares a few of what she realized in researching that e book!

Right here’s a humorous matter: for those who’ve been on-line immediately for greater than a fraction of a second, you’ll have began to get the sense that the world is A Horrible Place. Even the dedicated traveler with an open thoughts may very well be forgiven for considering that the outlook is fairly bleak.

And for those who’ve seen the headlines immediately or been on social media and also you’re feeling low consequently, you’re not alone.

It’s straightforward to get the concept that the world is turning into extra depressing by the minute and that happiness is a luxurious in these troubled instances.

However over the previous six years, I’ve realized that there are individuals all world wide discovering methods to remain joyful, day-after-day. And that happiness is one thing we’re hardwired to hunt out – wherever we’re.

I began researching happiness in 2013 when I relocated from the UK to Denmark. I’d spent 12 years dwelling and dealing in London as a journalist, and I had no intention of leaving, till out of the blue one moist Wednesday, my husband got here residence and advised me he’d been supplied his dream job…working for Lego in rural Jutland. I used to be skeptical to begin with — I had profession, a pleasant flat, nice associates, shut household — I had a life.

Okay, so my husband and I each labored lengthy hours, we had been drained on a regular basis, and by no means appeared to have the ability to see one another very a lot. We often needed to bribe ourselves to get by means of the day and we’d each been unwell on and off for the previous six months.

However that was regular, proper?

We thought we had been ‘dwelling the dream.’ I used to be 33 years outdated and we’d additionally been attempting for a child for so long as both of us might keep in mind, enduring years of fertility remedy, however we had been at all times so careworn that it by no means fairly occurred.

So when my husband was supplied a job in Denmark, this ‘different life’ risk was dangled in entrance of us — the possibility to swap the whole lot we knew for the unknown. Denmark had simply been voted the world’s happiest nation within the UN’s annual report and I grew to become fascinated by this. How had a tiny nation of simply 5.5m individuals managed to tug off the happiest nation on earth title? Was there one thing within the water? And if we couldn’t get happier in Denmark, the place might we get happier?

Throughout our first go to, we seen that there was one thing a bit totally different concerning the Danes we met. They didn’t seem like us, for starters — fairly other than the truth that they had been all strapping Vikings towering over my 5’3” body — they seemed extra relaxed and more healthy. They walked extra slowly. They took their time to cease and eat collectively, or speak, or simply…breathe.

And we had been impressed.

My Lego Man husband was offered on the concept and begged me to maneuver, promising we’d relocate for my profession subsequent time. And I used to be so worn out by my hectic London life that I discovered myself agreeing. I give up my job to go freelance and determined I’d give it a yr, investigating the Danish happiness phenomenon first hand — a distinct space of dwelling every month to search out out what Danes did otherwise.

From meals to household life; work tradition to figuring out; and design to the Danish welfare state — every month I’d throw myself into dwelling ‘Danishly’ to see if it made me any happier and if I might change the best way I lived consequently. I made a decision I’d interview as many Danes, expats, psychologists, scientists, economists, historians, sociologists, politicians, everybody, the truth is, to attempt to uncover the secrets and techniques to dwelling Danishly.

I documented my experiences for 2 UK newspapers earlier than being requested to put in writing a e book: The Yr of Residing Danishly, Uncovering the Secrets and techniques of the World’s Happiest Nation.

Since then, I’ve been humbled and moved to listen to from readers from throughout the globe with wide-ranging life views, however the one fixed was a must share the happiness secrets and techniques of their very own cultures. A number of the themes that sprung out had been common — equivalent to social interactions, exercising outdoor and discovering a stability in life — whereas others had been intriguingly distinctive.

The Atlas of Happiness book cover by Helen RussellSo I got down to analysis into distinctive happiness ideas from world wide, interviewing individuals internationally till The Atlas of Happiness — my new book-baby — was born. It isn’t a compendium of the happiest international locations; as an alternative, it’s a have a look at what’s making individuals happier elsewhere. As a result of if we solely have a look at the international locations already coming high of the happiness polls, we miss out on concepts and information from cultures we’re much less accustomed to.

Nowhere is ideal. Each nation has faults. However I needed to have a good time the perfect components of a rustic’s tradition in addition to nationwide traits at their best – as a result of that’s what we should always all be aiming for.

Listed here are a number of of my favorites:

Do you know, for instance, that in Portuguese there’s one thing known as saudade — a sense of longing, melancholy, and nostalgia for a happiness that when was — or perhaps a happiness you merely hoped for?

And whereas Brazil could also be well-known for its carnival spirit, the flipside of this, saudade, is so central to the Brazilian psyche that it’s even been given its personal official ‘day’ on the 30th of January yearly.

Most of us can have skilled a bittersweet pleasure in moments of melancholy — flicking by means of outdated pictures, or caring about anybody sufficient to overlook them after they’re gone.

And scientists have discovered that this non permanent unhappiness — counter-intuitively — makes us happier: offering catharsis; enhancing our consideration to element; growing perseverance and selling generosity. So we should always all spend time remembering these we’ve cherished and misplaced — then apply being somewhat extra grateful for those nonetheless round.

Finland ranked primary on this yr’s UN World Happiness report because of an amazing high quality of life, free healthcare, and training funded by excessive taxes.

However there’s additionally one thing else the Finns take pleasure in that’s infinitely extra exportable: kalsarikännit — outlined as ‘consuming at residence in your underwear with no intention of going out’ — a pursuit so widespread it even has its personal emoji, commissioned by The Finnish International Ministry.

In frequent with most Scandinavians, Finns aren’t shy about disrobing, and so they all have such enviably well-insulated homes that stripping right down to their pants is outwardly fully okay even when it’s minus 35 levels exterior. What you drink and crucially how a lot of it you knock again is right down to the person, but it surely’s a uniquely Finnish type of happiness and mode of rest that we will all give a go.

Best selling author Helen Russell working on her laptop

In Greece, they’ve an idea known as meraki that refers to an introspective, exact expression of care, often utilized to a cherished pastime — and it’s retaining Greeks joyful regardless of turbulent instances. It’s because having a pastime improves our high quality of life based on scientists, and difficult ourselves to do one thing totally different additionally creates new neural pathways in our mind. Having a ardour that you just take pleasure may be of additional profit to those that can’t say the identical for his or her major occupation.

As a result of meraki could make life worthwhile in case your 9-5 is extra of a day by day grind. Many duties that should be taken care of on a day-to-day foundation aren’t significantly difficult or inspiring – from submitting, to elevating buy orders and even — dare I say it — a number of the extra gruelling elements of parenting.

However we will break up the endless cycle of mundane work with our personal private challenges — matters that we’re obsessed with that we will genuinely look ahead to doing. Our meraki.

Dolce far niente — or the sweetness of doing nothing — is a much-treasured idea in Italy — typically hashtagged on Instagram accompanying photos of Italians in hammocks. Okay, so Italy hasn’t precisely topped any happiness rankings in recent times, however the cliché of the carefree Italian nonetheless exists – and with good cause.

Italians do ‘nothing’ like no different nation and perfecting the artwork takes type and talent – as a result of there’s extra to it than meets the attention. It’s watching the world go by over espresso and a cornetto. It’s laughing at vacationers. Or politicians. And crucially it’s about savoring the second and actually having fun with the current. Many people seek for rest by touring to unique areas, consuming to oblivion, or attempting to blot out the noise of recent life.

However Italians let the chaos wash over them. As an alternative of saving up our ‘enjoyable quota’ for an annual escape, they unfold it over the minutes, hours and days all year long and ‘take pleasure in life’ in all its messy actuality.

One of many happiest international locations on the planet, the Norwegians have to be doing one thing proper. And fairly apart from their enviable Scandi-lifestyles and the security internet of all that oil, Norwegians have a secret ace card up their sleeves: an idea known as friluftsliv. This roughly interprets as ‘free air life’ and it’s a code of conduct in addition to a life objective for many Norwegians – who wish to spend time outside and get excessive, as typically as attainable.

Anybody who’s ever visited the nation will know that for those who meet a Norwegian out in nature, their goal tends to be the very best mountain close by – and there’s a saying in Norway that “You have to make an effort earlier than you possibly can have pleasure’.

Most Norwegians imagine you must work for matters, to earn them with bodily endeavors, battling the weather. Solely when you’ve climbed a mountain within the rain and chilly, are you able to actually take pleasure in your dinner. It’s an quaint strategy to the nice life however quite a few research present that utilizing our our bodies and getting out into nature as typically as attainable boosts psychological and bodily wellbeing.

Best selling author Helen Russell posing in front of a colorful mural

Which is all very properly, on paper. However tips on how to apply these ideas and all of the matters I’d realized in actual life? Effectively, I took it slowly — dolce far niente type. I needed to be taught to not be the archetypal Londoner, working all hours. As an alternative, I needed to attempt stress-free every so often.

Radical, I do know.

Subsequent, I received on the pastime prepare. I discovered my meraki in pottery, in cooking and attempting out new recipes, typically impressed by the international locations I used to be researching. Some weeks, we ate properly. Others, not a lot (my husband nonetheless hasn’t forgiven me for ‘Russian month’). I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve finished a good quantity of underwear-drinking, too.

The Finnish idea of kalsarikännit and I are actually agency associates. And since I used to be working much less and being extra aware of dwelling properly and taking care of myself, it was comparatively straightforward to undertake the Norwegian ethos of friluftsliv.

So now I attempt to ask myself: what did I do immediately? What did I climb? The place did I’m going? However the largest thoughts shift was the belief that to be joyful, we’ve got to be snug being unhappy typically, too. That we’re at our healthiest and happiest after we can reconcile ourselves to all our feelings, good and dangerous.

The Portuguese saudade was a sport changer for me — serving to me to come back to phrases with the life I believed I’d have and discover a technique to transfer on, with out resentment or bitterness. As a result of if you let go of those matters, one thing fairly superb can occur.

By studying from different cultures about happiness, wellbeing and tips on how to keep wholesome (and sane), I discovered a technique to be much less careworn than I used to be in my outdated life. I developed a greater understanding of the challenges and subtleties of coming from one other tradition. My empathy ranges went up. I realized to care, extra.

Optimism isn’t frivolous: it’s vital. You’re vacationers. You get this. However we have to unfold the phrase, now, greater than ever. As a result of we solely have one world, so it might be actually nice if we didn’t mess it up.

Hellen Russell is a British journalist, speaker, and the creator of the worldwide bestseller The Yr of Residing Danishly. Her most up-to-date e book, The Atlas of Happiness, examines the cultural habits and traditions of happiness across the globe. Previously the editor of, she now writes for magazines and newspapers world wide, together with Stylist, The Instances, Grazia, Metro, and The i Newspaper.

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