A collection of postings on a range of issues is available on our website (www.mjacksongroup.ca). This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field. While articles on how to promote happiness seem to pop up wherever we turn, I like the cultural contributions in this article.
The article is as follows:
Men’s Health includes an article by Laura Williams: “7 Secrets For Better Living From Around The World—Some countries are just more joyful than others – and that’s science, not conjecture. You (probably) can’t relocate to another part of the world, but you can steal some of their happy strategies from afar.”
Here are some excerpts:
I began looking at what other countries knew about happiness. Those global happiness indexes only got me so far: cultural definitions of ‘happiness’ aren’t necessarily the same in Finland as they are in Bhutan.
So I went deeper and talked to sociologists and psychologists about what it is that creates happiness in different countries and how to bring what they know into your own life –wherever you live on this earth.
Aim For ‘Just The Right Amount’
Finnish people tend to subscribe to the Nordic philosophy of lagom, or ‘just the right amount’, says Dr Jukka K Savolainen, professor of sociology at Wayne State University. How that’s related to your happiness makes sense: if your basic needs are met, there’s no great drive to strive for more, which makes contentment and happiness more attainable. That may be a reason this country topped the United Nations’ 2022 World Happiness Report. ‘It’s “unseemly” to want more than what’s “just right”,’ Dr Savolainen says of the mindset. ‘It’s the opposite of being flashy. Less is more.’
If ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is embedded in your thinking, try tapping into gratitude. There’s a long history of research on the link between gratitude and feelings of wellbeing. When you appreciate what you have, you won’t be so inclined to feel the pressure to achieve more – or the disappointment when you may fall short.
Bhutan’s government tracks the country’s ‘gross national happiness’. It uses an index that includes nine factors to measure how the nation is doing. The idea is that the country can’t truly progress and be considered ‘healthy’ if the people and environment aren’t supported in their wellbeing. Dr Dorine van Norren, an independent researcher, diplomat and policymaker, says Bhutan has ‘indigenous beliefs in harmony and balance – with oneself, community, nature – and self-development through spirituality’. Deep breathing and meditation, as well as centring activities such as chanting, are adopted as regular, daily practices. ‘When balancing yourself – from living standards to good health and culture – you can interact better with others and your surroundings.’
Norway (eighth in the World Happiness Report) is dedicated to spending time outdoors; it’s entwined with the country’s culture – the government has even sponsored ‘libraries’ for borrowing outdoor gear. But you don’t have to cross a fjord to reap the benefits of nature. Just being outside can enhance feelings of happiness – hanging out near water or in parks, fields or forests offers the greatest mood perks. The more often you do things outdoors, the more likely you are to have improved feelings of mental wellbeing.
Paraguay is the most positive (that is, smiling and laughing a lot) country of all, according to Gallup’s 2019 Positive Experience Index. Those displays of happiness aren’t just for show. ‘Smiling has big benefits,’ says Brian Johnson, philosopher and founder of the online platforms Optimize and Heroic. For one, a 2019 meta-analysis found that smiling can elicit small improvements in mood – both yours and those of the people around you – while (surprise!) frowning can have the opposite effect. ‘Feelings follow behaviour, and the little things you do matter,’ Johnson says.
Forge Strong Social Bonds
Maintaining a few close friendships could help you attain the same feelings of happiness that Icelandic citizens have. Research* has found that 98% of Icelanders ‘believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need’.
Granted, the majority of the small population is in and around Reykjavík. But just a couple of tight relationships can make a difference in long-term happiness, according to Dr Kevin Gilliland, executive director of the counselling service Innovation360. ‘You need people you can have conversations with and who will be honest with you.’ Chances are, they’re in your life already; you just have to spend time staying close. Do anything that helps affirm your connection and gives you time to really talk.
Take Food Inspiration From The Med
This might sound strange, but one big factor behind Israel’s happiness – on the cusp of ranking in the top 10 – is the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Dr Catherine Hezser, professor of Jewish studies at SOAS University of London, says that a typical Israeli diet ‘consists of fruits and vegetables, especially aubergines and sweet potatoes, which are available year-round, as well as melons, mangoes, chickpeas, and tomato and cucumber salad. There are many greengrocers who sell only produce, and meals are usually homemade’.
‘There’s ample evidence to suggest that food impacts neuroplasticity – how our brain forms and reorganises synaptic connections – and inflammation. And the latter is a major factor at play in depression,’ says Dr Drew Ramsey, author of Eat To Beat Depression And Anxiety. Even switching out one packaged, grab-and-go-type meal a day for a nutrient-dense meal can help change your mood. Think of it as filling up on great food, not cutting back on less-great stuff, and not ruling out foods. ‘I see a lot of patients who are adhering to a lot of ideas around food, and they aren’t very happy about them,’ Dr Ramsey says. Eating plans that sap the joy from your life defeat the happiness-promoting purpose of healthy eating.
Embrace The Ubuntu Spirit
There’s no denying that life isn’t perfect in South Africa. It’s a diverse country with a complicated history and its fair share of countrywide problems. Yet, South Africa’s happiness rankings have been on an upward trajectory recently, and it may be due to the country’s ubuntu spirit, or the concept of ‘I am because we are’. What that means is that people define themselves through other people. ‘Their family first, then their clan and their community. It’s not self-centred and it’s not individualistic. It’s all about humaneness, about making sure that your neighbour is okay, that people in the community are okay. I’m only happy if you’re happy,’ says Dr van Norren. The opposite is true as well. ‘If you diminish the dignity of others, you diminish the dignity of yourself and your community. It’s all interlinked.’
In one study in the Journal Of Happiness Studies, researchers found that people who wrote about a time when they acted compassionately were more likely to experience gains in happiness and self-esteem than people who just wrote about their day. Compassion takes practise and requires empathy, but simple things, such as volunteering your time, can help to hone compassion and inspire you to develop a more ubuntu way of living.
Ken Pope, Melba J.T. Vasquez, Nayeli Y. Chavez-Dueñas, & Hector Y. Adames:
Ethics in Psychotherapy & Counseling: A Practical Guide, 6th Edition (Wiley, 2021)
“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.”
― Maya Angelou