Because I’m Happy: An Expert Gets Real on a Really Elusive Emotion

Related Article
Mind & Soul
5 Key Reminders to Help You Be Happy
Read Article
brigitte tohm sunflowers
Photo: Courtesy of Brigitte Tohm

I want to be happy. You want to be happy. But how?

Happiness, as a state of being, still remains incredibly elusive. We have yet to define it in a way that resonates with everyone. We struggle to find it. We look to people, places, and objects to provide it. And we stand in our own way once it finally arrives. Enter: Meik Wiking, a man who has dedicated his life to finding out what makes people happy.

As CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, he has been described as everything from “the Indiana Jones of Smiles” to “the world’s happiest man” – labels that he’s quick to correct. He is, however, attuned to topics such as quality of life and and subjective well-being, having written several reports and books on happiness. Remember last year’s obsession with hygge? While the rest of us still attempt to both pronounce and live it, Wiking wrote The Little Book of Hygge after concluding that it was the magic ingredient behind Denmark consistently coming first in global happiness rankings.

His most recent book is entitled The Little Book of Lykke, a literary manifestation of Wiking’s quest to discover the secrets of the world’s happiest people. Published last year, it delves into what the likes of Brazil, Bhutan, and South Korea are doing right and how we can emulate it. Here, ahead of his appearance at the upcoming Emirates Airline Literature of Festival, Wiking shares some thoughts.

On His Current Happiness Score on a Scale of 1-10


On People Expecting Him to Be Happy 24/7

“Happiness researchers are also people. We get angry, stressed, and sad too. That is part of being human.”

On His Personal Definition of Happiness

“If you want happiness here and now, then find an activity that demands your full attention. I am a terrible dancer. But I have danced tango for four years because it makes me focus on the body, not the mind. I think we all have a little voice in our minds that questions what we do and asks, ‘Am I good enough?’

Tango gives me a break – a mental break – from that, and I think we could all use one of those. If you’re looking to become happier with your life overall, I would focus on the factors that I cover in the book such as health, freedom, and togetherness.”

Photo: Courtesy of Chris McAndrew

On How to Measure Happiness

“There is no easy way. Happiness is obviously very subjective – as it should be. What matters is how you feel about your life. At the same time, happiness is an umbrella term, so we need to look at the different parts. How happy you feel right now may be different to how happy you are with your life overall.

Ideally, what we do at the Happiness Research Institute is follow large groups of people over time, so we can uncover how changes in their lives impact their happiness. Then we can understand the average impact on one’s happiness if their income is doubled, if their commute is cut in half, or if they fall in love.”

On Why He Thinks Denmark is the Happiest Country in the World

“Denmark is relatively good at delivering quality of life to people, but the country is neither a utopia nor holds a monopoly on happiness. I think what Denmark does well, together with the other Nordic countries, is converting wealth into well-being. Universal healthcare, free university education, and equal opportunities (relatively speaking) for men and women – those are the things that drive quality of life.”

On What His Global Treasure Hunt for Happiness Revealed

“That we can learn from people all over the world to become happier. In Bhutan, they start the school day with “brainbrushing”, a mindfulness exercise that not only leads to high levels of well-being, but also better academic performance. In Denmark, people cycle to work, so exercise is built into their daily routine. I know we can’t all cycle, but we can all do 25 push-ups every time we go for coffee at the office. Yes, I do that. And yes, my colleagues think I’m crazy.”

The Little Book of Lykke
Photo: Courtesy of Emirates Airline Festival of Literature

On the Relationship Between Food and Happiness

“It’s a strong one! I am yet to meet people around the world who do not enjoy sitting down to enjoy a good meal in the company of good people. In fact, I’ve created a supper club, so I see my friends more often. Everybody brings ingredients and we cook the food together, so there is no one host with all the responsibility.

There’s also a theme every time, like Mexican food. We once made sausages from the ground up and they tasted awful, but we had a really fun time. This was three years ago, yet we still discuss what went wrong.”

On How We Can Be Happier at Work

“Give ‘Quiet Tuesday Mornings’ a try if you can. One of the things people dislike is interruptions. They usually come in the form of calls, e-mails, meetings, and managers. So one solution that we have experimented with at the Happiness Research Institute is to have two-hour slots during which no interruptions – managers included – are allowed in order to allow people time for work that requires their full attention.”

Meik Wiking will be speaking at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on Friday, March 2nd. To purchase a ticket to his session, click here.