05 September 2017

What does the word Lykke actually mean?

Lykke is the Danish word for happiness. I initially became interested in studying happiness because Denmark usually tops the World Happiness Rankings. However, what I have come to realise is that, while the Danes are generally satisfied with their lives, they do not have a monopoly on lykke - we can learn a lot about happiness from other people and nations. My work has allowed me to talk to people from all four corners of the earth – from Copenhagen mayors to Mexican street food vendors. My job is to explore the causes and effects of human happiness, and work towards improving quality of life for people across the world.

Where should we all live to reach optimum happiness?

No one needs to emigrate to achieve happiness! What we can do, however, is import happiness tips and tricks from other cultures that will help us become more satisfied with our lives.

In France, for instance, they have a wonderful culture around meals. It’s not just food that they value, it is the whole eating experience and, more specifically, how it encourages people to spend time and socialise with one another, and how that impacts on happiness. The extra time invested is about togetherness, not eating more - in fact, while the French spend twice as much time eating meals as people in the UK, they have lower obesity rates and a longer life expectancy.

Another tip I’ve picked up is from Bhutan, where the school day starts with a mindfulness exercise called ‘brain brushing’ that leads to better academic performance and higher levels of wellbeing. And in Denmark, most people (50 per cent, in fact) cycle to work –  so exercise is built into their daily routine.

What is the key to being fulfilled and happy in your job?

We see that people feel there are simply too many interruptions at work. Imagine having a full day, where you are by yourself at work. There are no meetings. You won't find yourself in a conference room with eight colleagues listening to two people discussing the right solution to an issue that involves only them.

Your boss is not going to call you and ask for a progress report on the IT project, and no emails are ticking in with ‘URGENT’ in the subject. It is a nice dream, isn't it? Imagine what you could do with that level of freedom. Imagine how much work you would get done that day. Profound work, work that needs your full attention and concentration. Work that you have chosen to do and that you enjoy doing.

At the Happiness Research Institute we have introduced “creative zones” - two hours of uninterrupted time to work on stuff that needs full concentration. Later, I discovered that Intel had experimented with a similar model: Tuesday Morning Quiet Time. In two US sites, 300 engineers and managers agreed to minimize interruptions on Tuesday mornings. No meetings where scheduled, phones went to voicemail, emails and IM were shut down. The aim was 4 hours of ‘thinking time’.

Have you used any of your research in your own life?

Of course! As CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, I have to be happy – otherwise I get fired. Today, I think I may have the best job in the world. I seek to understand what makes people happy, and because of that I get to talk with people all around the world about their hopes and dreams. I am happier now than I was before, but it has also been a lot of hard work building a company from scratch.

One of the main changes that I’ve introduced in my own life is to improve the time I spend with my friends. So, in 2012, we created a supper club. But instead of one host taking responsibility for the food each evening, we all bring the ingredients and cook together. Every time there is a theme – for example, Mexican – and there was one fateful night we attempted to make sausages from scratch. They tasted awful but we had lots of fun, and three years later we still discuss and debate what went wrong.

What tip would you give someone to make their life a little more lykke?

If you want happiness immediately, I’d suggest engaging in an activity that demands your full attention. For instance, even though I am a terrible dancer, I took up tango classes four years ago because it made me focus on the body and not the mind, enabling me to get a mental break from that voice that's inside all our heads, constantly critiquing our decisions and sense of worth. Tango gave me a break from that inner critic. However, if you’re looking to become happier with your overall life, I’d suggest focusing on factors like health and togetherness.

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