Love, Light and Lykke
I don’t even know where to start describing what just happened last week.
If you’ve been reading the last couple of weeks, you will know my latest fascination has been the subject of “lykke”, and the work of Meik Wilding at the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen.
Then on Friday of last week, without having lifted a finger, I find myself there. In Copenhagen. At the Happiness Research Institute. Meeting Meik.
I can hardly believe it now, as I write the words, that this actually happened. An act of kindness has left me humbled and quite emotional.
How do I repay this huge gift I have received, I ask myself. The answer came in the words I wrote last week – I live, I learn and I pass it on. I pay it forward. I can share with you this week my insights from my time there, and know that if it makes just a difference to one person, it’s been worthwhile.
The first thing that strikes me about Copenhagen is how, even as a big city, there is no sense of stress, or hurry or urgency. In contrast to London, people are going about their business at a normal pace, as if they’ve got enough time.
There’s no tooting of horns, not much in the way of traffic, and the cyclists….well, they are a different breed altogether. For one, they stick to the cycle path!
They seem to travel at roughly the same pace, no strain or stress as their posture is good, and they are dressed in normal clothes. No one is trying to look or cycle like they’re in the Tour De France. It’s just a healthy way of getting to and from work, and generally people look happy, without competition.
People here, rather than going to the gym, tend to put health and wellbeing into their everyday life. The commute is all-important as a way to spend the time well. My favourite moment with Meik was when I asked him if he lived near to the Institute, an he told me it was exactly one and a half tracks of AC/DC’s ‘Back to Black” away.
His face lights up, and I can tell it’s one of those little rituals that make him so contagiously happy. When I meet him, he’s had a long day, running a workshop on improving quality of life in those with MS, yet he has all the time in the world, and offers to have our picture taken by the Christmas tree.
There’s something about Copenhagen which made me feel festive, all warm and cosy about all things Christmas. I’m usually a bit of a bah humbug, groaning and grumbling about the commercialism of it all, and rolling my eyes at the Christmas jumpers, decorations and general tackiness.
But here, I’m all over it. I think it’s the lights. There are love heart shaped lights everywhere, Tivoli Gardens is like a Winter Wonderland, and there’s some kind of magic in the air, I can’t help but get caught up in it all.
This is one of the things I think make the Danes some of the happiest people in the world, in spite of their lack of daylight hours in winter. They make the most of the light. In the daytime, they make sure they get their vitamin D fix, and when it’s dark, they use candles and clever lighting to create an ambience conducive to wellbeing.
Just below the Happiness Research Institute, there’s a meeting going on, and in the middle of the table, they have a huge candle. I’ve never seen this before, but I think the idea is genius. They even put the “hygge” into the office environment, and it seems to work. People seem to have struck the balance between calm and inspired, the opposite to the “tired and wired” syndrome often seen in the Western world of work.
There’s a generosity of spirit, which is engrained in their culture, where they believe no one is better or worse than anyone else, and from this comes a sense of community or togetherness, which is an integral part of happiness.
We experience this from day one, in every place we go to eat or drink. People meet up to “break bread’ together, whether it’s over a smorrebord, a glogge (mulled wine), or the most indulgent hot chocolate you’ve ever seen.
People sit outside because there are fires and heaters and blankets and furry covers on the seats. They take their time over their food and drink, sharing, savouring, and making it a sensual experience, not a hurried one.
Nourishment is important here. Like the French, they take their time, they eat well, but not too much, and as a result, there is hardly any sign of obesity here.
In fact, I notice people in general look “well”, and it confirms to me that we can learn so much from how they live here. Across the world, people are no longer looking to the US as role models of how to live, we are looking to countries like Denmark, Holland and Switzerland where they have higher levels of both health and happiness.
I’m reflecting on my few days in Copenhagen on Sunday night from my daybed, overlooking the nature-inspired pool and spa of our hotel. The lighting is like magic, the music just the right level to induce relaxation, the ambiance is just perfect, as is the company, and I’m drifting off into a state of total bliss.
I’m thinking about what I’ve learned here about health and wellbeing, and I think it has three aspects:
- Create the right environment and surroundings – bring the light.
- Take time for connection with others, whether loved ones, or those you’ve just met, and be kind – spread the love.
- Make the most of what you have in any given situation – find the lykke.