My girlfriend recently applied for (and got a job) at a Scandinavian company that’s based in Denmark but has expanded throughout the world. As part of that, we did a ton of research into what makes the company tick.
It turns out that Scandinavian culture is full of all sorts of fascinating concepts that we can learn from. Those concepts are what makes Scandinavian countries (and Denmark in particular) some of the happiest countries in the world.
But what exactly are those concepts, and what can we learn from them that we can apply to our own lives to instantly become happier?
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Pronounced “hoo-guh”, this Danish and Norwegian concept is used to describe a feeling of cosy contentment. The company that my girlfriend applied to prides itself on its ability to create moments of hygge, and I’ve seen at least a dozen books that are dedicated to the art and practice of hygge.
For me, hygge is lying in bed with my cat and a bowl of popcorn, watching documentaries on Netflix while it’s raining outside. It’s the smell of vanilla incense and the taste of a well-brewed cup of coffee. It’s putting my feet up after a long day at work.
What does hygge mean to you?
Speaking of a well-brewed cup of coffee, it’s time to put the kettle on.
At its most basic level, fika is a break for coffee and cake, which makes it understandably popular in the workplace. But much like hygge, the literal translation doesn’t quite convey its cultural importance.
Coming to us from Sweden, fika allows Swedes to make time for their friends, family, colleagues and acquaintances. It’s a vital part of Swedish social life which allows people to network, hang out, and even find love.
The coffee is just a bonus.
To explain lagom, it helps to think of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.
That’s because it basically means having just the right amount of something. It’s even been translated as “not too much, not too little”, but that’s an even bigger mouthful than the one that Goldilocks took out of Baby Bear’s porridge.
The idea behind lagom is that life should be lived and enjoyed in moderation, not because of a lack of money or resources but because it’s the right thing to do. This allows you to find balance and to better enjoy the little things in life.
If you eat a whole cake every day, you’ll soon get sick of cake. If you eat a slice every day as part of your fika, you’ll enjoy it more and look forward to it.
Friluftsliv is a Norwegian concept which is all about experiencing and respecting the outdoors.
Now, I’m not surprised that this concept comes from Norway. When I think of Norway, I think about forests, skiing and the Monty Python parrot sketch (because I’m pining for the fjords). To me, Norway is the outdoors.
Like the other concepts that we’ve talked about, friluftsliv is more of a philosophy than a word. It’s central to the Norwegian way of life, and people of all ages go out of their way to make time for exploring the outdoors, even if that just means taking the dog for a walk.
As for me, I plan to embrace friluftsliv by spending a night under the stars, trying to spot the Northern Lights. I’ve even learned some Norwegian on Duolingo.
They say that if you have a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.
Now, I’d argue that that’s not quite true, because I love my job but I also work harder than anyone I know. However, I’d also say that I practice arbejdsglaede.
This Scandinavian word translates roughly as “happiness at work” and is all about enjoying what you do so much that you get out of bed feeling energised about going to the office. Even if you’re not a morning person.
If you’re lucky enough to experience arbejdsglaede, you’re going to enjoy life a whole lot more given that you can expect to spend 13 years of your life at work, along with an extra year in unpaid overtime.
Is your life a work of art?
Well, if you practice livskunst, it is. This Norwegian term is usually translated as “the art of living”, but its real meaning goes much deeper than that. It’s closer to lagom than to anything else, and it’s all about living a simple, joyful life.
People who follow livskunst don’t need fancy cars or to eat at posh restaurants to enjoy their lives. They’re all about finding pleasure in the little things, whether that’s the soothing sound of rain against the windows or whether it’s the taste of their daily slice of cake as part of fika.
Sisu is a Finnish concept which is all about resilience and demonstrating internal strength, which isn’t always easy. Its closest translation is probably the word “guts”.
The interesting thing about sisu is that it’s a product of Finnish culture, and it has as much to do with the cold weather than anything else. You need a little sisu if you want to get through the long, cold winters.
People who practice sisu will take on challenges even when it looks as though they have no hope of winning. They’ll do it in style, too.
The closest non-Scandinavian example I can think of here is the British “stiff upper lip” that was displayed during the blitz in the Second World War.
Last but not least, we’re heading back to Norway to take a look at Dugnad.
Dugnad is a little bit like the blitz spirit but without the bombs. A dugnad is basically a day where people come together to improve their local community, such as by cleaning the streets, picking litter or carrying out repairs.
You can think of a dugnad as being like a spring clean, except that it also happens in the fall. I think it’s a great idea and I wish that the same thing happened near me.
Bringing it all together
By now, you know everything you need to get started with some of the Scandinavian concepts that will instantly make you happier.
If you’re still struggling for inspiration, call a friend and arrange a spot of fika, but make sure you practice lagom when you bring the cake out. It’s not my fault if you eat too much and make yourself sick.
If the weather’s nice, take a walk in nature and experience the joy of friluftsliv so you can practice livskunst and turn your life into a work of art.
Speaking of work, if work sucks, find a new job so you can experience arbejdsglaede, and use your sisu to stay sane until you’ve served out your notice period.
Here’s to a happier, more fulfilled life for all of us!