If you have read Meik Wiking’s Little Book of Hygge then you will perhaps know what I mean when I write that it is possible to find happiness in a book. If not then you can find out with his latest publication: The Little Book of Lykke.
Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen and his latest book is a treasure hunt for happiness around the world. But it is not Wiking’s expertise nor the subject about which he writes that means you will find happiness in this book. No, it is more than that. The Little Book of Lykke embodies happiness.
Firstly, the book itself is happy-making to hold. It is a nice size and printed on paper that feels natural and simultaneously luxurious. It has that lovely new book smell too. (If you haven’t guessed, I’m not reading the Kindle version, although there is one if you’d prefer. There is an audio version too, narrated by Wiking, if you want to know how to pronounce all the words correctly!)
Inside, there are beautiful photographs and happy-making drawings that inspire you to seek out happiness. Looking at them makes me feel all cosy. I want to gather up blankets, cups of warm tea, homemade food and friends.
In fact, reading The Little Book of Lykke, you feel as though you are sat down in a cafe having a chat with one of your best friends. One of your wisest friends, sure, but also one of the funniest and someone who is unrivalled in their ability to keep things real.
We all daydream. I often imagine getting into shape but then I realise it gets in the way of me levelling up in Candy Crush. (The Little Book of Lykke, p. 82)
Wiking is an excellent teller of stories. He brings to life images of evenings with friends, pizza, whisky and log fires … did I imagine the log fires?! Maybe. But if I did then it proves my point that The Little Book of Lykke don’t just speak about warmth, they make you feel warm. Similarly, you don’t just read about community, you begin to feel part of a community of happiness seekers. You imagine all the other people snuggled up in blankets around the world reading about happiness and dreaming of their own book-lending cupboards (Ibid., p. 52).
The thing I love most about The Little Book of Lykke though is that it reminds us that a person’s happiness, and a country’s success, need not be measured only, or even primarily, in economic terms. Emotional wellbeing is about more than money.
The way the world has been measuring happiness for decades can be summed up like this: Imagine two friends meeting after a long time. ‘How are you?’ the one friend asks the other. ‘I make 40800 euros per year,’ she replies. No one talks like this, but this is how we have been measuring well-being traditionally. We have been saying that money equals happiness. And while money may matter – it is not the only thing that contributes to our happiness. (Ibid., p. 23)
The Little Book of Lykke makes it clear that this lesson is not only relevant to individuals. It can, and should, inform the way our communities work.
It seems to me that we are still some way off from embedding into the UK’s political rhetoric a view of happiness that does not solely rely on an economic model. Consider the struggle that is being faced to get parity of care between physical and mental health. But perhaps I am being too pessimistic. As Wiking points out the UK and Denmark came first and third in reducing stigma and increasing awareness around mental health, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Mental Integration Index.
Increasing awareness of mental health is certainly a start. But there is still a long way to go in the UK, and other countries, until we reach a point where people can feel confident about receiving timely, accessible and appropriate mental health support. And, lest we forget, that conversation is about the reduction of mental ill health rather than the facilitation of happiness. When was the last time you heard a politician in the UK talk about happiness?
So it is lovey to read a book that spells out clearly what is needed to facilitate happiness. And there is more good news. In an interview with Penguin, Wicking reassures us that nobody needs to emigrate to find happiness. What we can do instead, he argues, is “import happiness tips and tricks from other cultures that will help us become more satisfied with our lives”. (Source: Penguin Feature).
To this end, Wiking’s treasure hunt takes the reader through an exploration of togetherness, money, health, freedom, trust and kindness. It shows the reader what changes they can make to implement pockets of happiness into their lives. It seeks to “uncover the secrets of the world’s happiest people and look for the good that does exist in the world” (The Little Book of Lykke, p.19). And it encourages us all to dream bigger in terms of our happiness aspirations, both as individuals and as communities. For that reason alone, I know I will keep returning to reread The Little Book of Lykke and I hope our politicians read it too!