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Happiness-Boosting Secrets from Around the World

Updated: Nov 1, 2022

Helen Russell, author of The Atlas of Happiness, says that there are ways different nations across the globe enhance their experience of happiness through a mindset or an attitude that runs deep within the culture.

Man standing on mountain top giving a thumbs up with both hands

Greece: Meraki

Meraki refers to “an introspective, precise expression of care, usually applied to a cherished pastime.” The idea behind meraki is to challenge yourself to break up the monotony of your regular routine (say, your nine-to-five job) by intentionally carving out time to invest in activities that inspire and relax you. It can also give you something to look forward to throughout the day which will surely boost your happiness.

Italy: Dolce far niente

This phrase translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing,” says Russell, adding that the concept is “all about savouring the moment and really enjoying the present.”

While many western cultures tend to save up “their ‘fun quota’ for an annual escape or a boozy weekend, Italians spread it over the minutes, hours, and days throughout the year.” Adopting this attitude can remind you that you deserve to enjoy life all year round, not just while on vacation.

Norway: Friluftsliv

In Norway, time spent outdoors is central to their way of life - but the concept of friluftsliv (free air life) isn’t just about being outside, it’s about engaging with nature in an intentional way. Not all of us will be climbing mountains regularly, or even live in a landscape where that’s an option, but embrace the spirit of friluftsliv by going for a walk or sitting in your garden, watching the birds visit your birdfeeder.

Sweden: Smultronstӓlle

The essence behind smultronstӓlle, which literally translated means “field of wild strawberries,” is to establish a place to go when you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed where you know you won’t be disturbed. Even though the phrase is linked to the outdoors, you can also practice this indoors, as long as it’s “your happy place that just makes you feel better.”

Japan: Wabi sabi

Our society often values perfection, which may lead us to put a lot of pressure on ourselves and our performance in life and work, however, the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, which translates to “the beauty of imperfection,” can help relieve us of this weight. Accepting the beauty in imperfection can make us feel better when things don’t turn out exactly as planned.

Brazil: Saudade

“In [Brazilian] Portuguese, there’s something called saudade, which is a feeling of longing, melancholy, and nostalgia for a happiness that once was - or even a happiness you merely hoped for,” explains Russel. These sentimental moments can make us appreciate these memories even more and encourage us to pay attention to the details of the here and now. The concept is so entrenched in Brazilian ideology that it’s celebrated every year on Saudade Day (30 January).

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