What The Scandinavians Know About Happiness That We Don’t

Scandinavian countries consistently rank as the happiest countries in the world.  It seems surprising that the cold climate, almost no daylight during winter months and infrequent sunny days isn’t causing sadness and despondency?  Are they also the wealthiest countries, allowing for their citizens to gain happiness from a lot of material possessions?  Are they all on antidepressants?  What’s going on up there?

One of my favorite definitions of happiness is not wanting to be anywhere else in this moment.  Take a second to consider that more deeply: allowing, and being at peace with, whatever and wherever you are in a given moment.  Not longing for the next event.  Not thinking about ways in which this moment is inadequate.  Simply noticing the present without judgment.  Just being here and now, without overthinking.  When you’re happy, you don’t want the moment to end.  You’re not thinking about the past or future.

Contrast that worldview with the messages we’re sent via mass media.  Commercials and many television shows are showcasing the next/better version of things we already own (cars is a great example of this).   Both for products and services, the underlying message is “You are/your stuff is inadequate.  So, buy this and THEN you’ll be happy”.

Many movies (especially romantic comedies and kids movies from when we were growing up) promote the myth “If only you find the right partner, then you’ll be happy.”  For singles, they can feel inadequate not being in a relationship in the present.  For couples, they can come to see their relationship as not as fulfilling as those in the movies apparently are.  (Thankfully, modern kids’ movies are no longer consistently promoting the idea of finding a mate and THEN living happily ever after.)

Social media can also contribute to dissatisfaction with what we have or are doing in the present moment.  Your friends/acquaintances are most likely posting beautiful photos of their latest vacation, their kid’s achievements, or groups of family members in apparent harmony.  Repeatedly seeing images of only the best moments of others’ lives can lead us to ‘compare and despair’.

The Swedes have a word that describes how much a person needs – just enough and not too little.  It’s called lagom.  And when you have just enough and not too little (whether its material possessions, relationships of any type or anything else we pursue here in the States) you come to realize your happiness has been available all along.  It’s no longer about obtaining a certain degree/ job, a certain home, an awesome vacation, or a partner.  You can feel happy right here and now.  There’s a parable that describes this:

An old cat came across a young kitten running in circles chasing its own tail in frantic pursuit.  The old cat asked “What are you doing?”  The kitten replied “I was told my tail is my happiness.  I’m just trying to catch it so I can be happy.”  The old cat smiled and said “You know, when I was young I was told the same thing.  I spent years trying to catch it.  I was exhausted and unhappy waiting for the day to come when I would finally be happy.  Finally, I gave up trying.  It was then that I noticed something.”  “Noticed what?”  the kitten asked impatiently.  The old cat replied “It was there all along.  I was too busy in the pursuit of happiness to notice my tail already there.  I didn’t realize how good the present moment was because I kept looking ahead.”

Now, consider for yourself how you can let go of…

Wanting to be somewhere else?

Wanting to be with someone (or someone else)?

Wanting this moment to be different than it is?

Wanting this moment to be over so you can go onto the next moment?

Wanting someone to behave other than they are behaving right now?

As long as you have just enough and not too little, your happiness has likely been here all along.  You just weren’t realizing your tail has been with you this whole time.

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