While recently travelling to the Maldives I had a chat with a Russian woman who was deeply fascinated by the Danish word ‘lykke’, which translates as ‘happiness’.

As a Dane, I have naturally always known that we are among the happiest people on earth (at least, according to studies), but I have never given much thought as to why that is, or that this would be even remotely interesting to foreigners.

My conversation with the Russian woman got me thinking about the definition of happiness: Happiness is defined as an emotional state characterised by feelings of joy, satisfaction, contentment and fulfilment.

I think Danish people have an overall feeling of contentment. We are safe, healthy and rich. However, I have also met people in rural parts of India and in the Maldives whose living circumstances are beyond poor, who struggle to make ends meet, yet are warmer and more welcoming than Scandis. They happily invite you into their homes to dine with them, while the kids play barefooted in the streets, and everyone greets you with a smile – something I’ve never experienced anywhere in Scandinavia. These people are a part of a community; they have a sense of belonging and they are deeply grateful for what they do have.

It is ironic because one of the reasons why I left Denmark and relocated to Asia was because I felt that people in Denmark were not very happy. I always thought Danish people were a bit cold and harsh, kind of like the weather.

Now, I don’t know the secret to being happy. But I am starting to think that perhaps – just perhaps – we have conflated safety, wealth and materialism with happiness in Scandinavia. Perhaps there are important lessons for us to learn about happiness from some of the poorest people on the planet.

Heidi Kokborg is a journalist and health coach from Denmark. She runs her own online business and writes a column for Scan Magazine about health and wellness in Scandinavia.

Web: www.heidikokborg.com

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