Hygge, Lagom, Ikigai, Wabi-Sabi: what’s your happiness approach?

On the occasion of the International Day of Happiness celebrated on 20 March, let’s have a closer look at the latest lifestyle guides which are increasingly flooding the shelves of our bookshops. From Scandinavia to Asia, they all promise to bring you happiness through wellbeing, inner peace, and the discovery of your purpose in life.

The Scandinavians: Be cosy, be happy

Hygge (Denmark):

Hygge may well be the most popular lifestyle trend since it started to invade our social media feeds in 2016 – in the UK, the word was even added to the Oxford Dictionary. And Denmark always ranks as one of the happiest country in the world (see ranking here), so they might be doing something good here!

The Hygge approach to life is about finding happiness and satisfaction by spending cosy moments, having pleasure with simple things. Danes give regularly priority to these breaks from their busy daily lives to fully relax and reinvigorate.

For a “hyggelig” atmosphere, pack your favourite pair of sweatpants, wear warm socks, light a dozen candles, grab your fur blanket, and sit by the fireplace with a hot drink & homemade treats. And of course, surround yourself with family and close friends. Summer garden or beach parties also count as Hygge!

The whole Danish society revolves around Hygge and no single detail is left behind: lighting design, furniture, clothing, or food, all being as simple, pragmatic and sustainable as possible. According to Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, not only Hygge leads to “Lykke” (happiness). After analysing and comparing data from countries around the world, he concluded that the 6 pillars of Lykke are: togetherness, money, health, freedom, trust & kindness. The higher you score in each pillar, the happier – easier said than done!

Your Hygge reads: “The Little Book of Hygge, The Danish Way to Live Well” & “The Little Book of Lykke, Secrets of the World’s Happiest People”, Meik Wiking

Lagom (Sweden):

After teaching us how to do “death cleaning”, the Swedes are coming back with a new life lesson: lagom or moderation. Not too little, not too much, but just the right amount of things. And it is not only about having the right amount of your favourite cake. It encourages having a better life balance by not abusing or neglecting important aspects, and by emphasising the collective rather than the individual.

All in all, Lagom illustrates well the focus of the Swedish society on equality, modesty, fairness, teamwork, or low environment impact. In practise, Lagom also influences furniture (we all have in mind the minimalist design of IKEA furniture), exercising (preferably in the nature ), the work-life balance (we all picture the Swedish “latte dads” hanging around in a park with their stroller), and food with the tradition of Fika (drinking coffee twice a day with your friends or colleagues).

Would living in harmony be the secret to sustainable happiness?

Your Lagom read: “Lagom, The Swedish Art of Balanced Living”, Linnea Dunne

The Japanese: Be your true self, be happy

Ikigai (Japan):

Japanese may not be the happiest people in the world, but they do rank among the longest-living citizens (87 years for women and 81 years for men). Originating from Okinawa, the secret to longevity might be Ikigai or finding your purpose in life, “your reason for getting up in the morning”.

If some already know their Ikigai from an early stage in life, others strive to discover it. To find out where it lies, you may reflect on the above diagram or try to notice when you enter your “state of flow”: when you are so absorbed by an activity that you loose the sense of time. And even if you doubt, it is essential to accept your Ikigai and let your curiosity guide you.

To fully embrace an Ikigai lifestyle, follow these 10 rules:

  • Don’t retire: Do not stop with your purpose & continue challenging yourself
  • Take it slow: Leave urgency behind
  • Don’t fill your stomach: Eating until only 80% full
  • Surround yourself with good friends
  • Exercice daily and gently
  • Smile at people around you
  • Reconnect with nature: Spend time outdoor
  • Give thanks to what brightened your day
  • Live in the moment: Appreciate the “now”
  • Follow your Ikigai: Pursue & nurture it

To sum up, just stay busy doing something that you like surrounded by people you love.

You Ikigai read: “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life”, Héctor García and Francesc Miralles

Wabi-Sabi (Japan):

Wabi-Sabi finds its roots in Zen Buddhism and is associated with the spiritual tea ceremony. Wabi praises the appreciation of “imperfect or irregular beauty” found in unusual places or objects and in overlooked moments. Sabi relates to embracing the “natural passage of time”, be it damaged objects or us getting older.

This concept advocates for living modest, enjoying nature and observing. It celebrates the appreciation of “what is” by examining the essential and not trying to reach perfection – as heavily advertised by in the (social) media. By accepting yourself and your imperfections, you are satisfied with what you have and subsequently achieve peace of mind.

To apply Wabi-Sabi in the house, be minimalistic and get only higher-quality furniture made of natural materials like wood. New Japanese and international designers are also increasingly applying it, as shown with the success of the “Kintsugi” concept in which broken objects are repaired, and displayed with pride as part of the object’s history. Just like we would be proud of our wrinkles and would not hide them.

Your Wabi-Sabi read: “Wabi-Sabi Welcome: Learning to Embrace the Imperfect and Entertain with Thoughtfulness and Ease", Julie Pointer Adams

What about your own happiness?

Marketing these life approaches as something one can buy is actually the opposite of their core values promoting a simple life and appreciation of the moment. Most people’s intention is to follow an Instagram healthy recipe or interior design trend rather than reflect on their needs.

Besides that, lifestyle trends are difficult to fully export due to different societies & economies, such as the different levels of social services, infrastructure, educational systems, or the work-life balance. If Scandinavian countries are a reference in terms of Welfare State with their citizens having a lot of necessities secured, this may be a reason why they need to appreciate smaller basic things.

In the end, there may not be “a” secret happiness & longevity recipe but only your own to discover and pursue. Try, practice, create, adapt, spend time your loved ones & happiness may be around the corner.

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