7 Happiness Secrets From Cultures Around The World

For lovers of travel, there is nothing quite like a trip to a new destination to muster up a dose of happiness. From the enchanting scents of exotic cuisines wafting through a city’s streets, to the serenity of just sitting by and watching the locals’ world go by, the sensations that arise while immersing in a different culture are truly an elixir for the curious mind. 

But have you ever noticed that the people from some destinations just seem to have their lives a little better figured out? The way that they smile and converse with one another, or go about their daily to-do-lists, just seems to be worlds apart from the rhythms of our home lives.

Well it’s not just a hunch – some countries have really discovered and live by their own unique philosophies for a happier life. To celebrate World Mental Health Awareness Week, this article explores some of the top seven secrets to happiness from across the globe.

1. Pura vida in Costa Rica

It would not be possible to compile a list of philosophies for a happy life around the world without pura vida at the top. The very popular Costa Rican phrase, pura vida, has become an emblem of the country. It translates to “pure life,” but it broadly relates to a way of viewing the world with optimism, positivity, and simplicity. Pura vida is all about being happy where you are at that moment in time and feeling grateful for what life’s given you. Maybe that’s not a lot, but for Costa Ricans, it’s important to make do with what you do have and work hard to make it wonderful. But pura vida goes further than the individual. It’s all about caring for the natural systems surrounding us, fuelling our bodies with nourishing foods, and keeping up to date with friends and family. It also remains a cornerstone of the government’s approach to regenerating the nation’s rainforests and coastlines and embedded within the spirit of the country.

2. Dolce far niente in Italy

Ah, dolce far niente. Just saying it out loud is enough to transport the mind to a candlelit terrace in Rome. For the Italians, “dolce far niente” is the sweet essence of doing absolutely nothing – and enjoying it all the while too. Total nothingness can be found in that delightful sensation of sitting back, allowing thoughts to come and go, while letting the time just pass on by. No stress, no rush, and definitely no pressure. Nothing could matter in a dolce far niente moment but the sight of the sweeping Tuscan landscapes or the sounds of the city crowds echoing down below. And for Italians, who live to celebrate with their exceptional wines and hearty plates of pasta, dolce far niente remains a deeply established way of life. Sounds good? They might say “when in Rome,” but it could certainly be applied in our own lives too. So perhaps, with the next bottle of Italian red you open, say this phrase to yourself and, well, do exactly as the Romans do.

3. Tri Hita Karana in Bali

The Tri Hita Karana is possibly one of the most beautiful but lesser-known secrets to a happy life from across the world. Originating in Bali, otherwise known as the Island of Gods, the Tri Hita Karana is a traditional philosophy for life that unifies “three causes of well-being” or “three reasons for prosperity.” According to this Balinese belief system, happiness and well-being can be found when one lives their life in harmony with three things: God, nature, and society. And if you visit the island of Bali, it’s quickly apparent how the locals live by this system. It’s the basis, for example, for all of the sensational rituals held by the Balinese, such as their clove-scented offerings of gratitude left daily down the pavements, while also remaining a foundational motive behind their sustainable approach to the natural world and their incomparable kindness in the community. 

4. Gezelligheid in the Netherlands

Before delving into the meaning of this one, let’s tackle its pronunciation. Literally it sounds like “Huhg-zell-hgick” – with the “hgick” said with that rather impossible, but still dashing, Dutch kick in the throat. Gezelligheid is a typical Dutch word and it’s derived from how they live and experience social gatherings across the Netherlands. Similar to the Danish philosophy of hygge, gezelligheid embodies the cozy sensation one gets around their friends, but it also goes far beyond the simplicity of warmth to entail a feeling of being optimally relaxed and at ease for the whole group. It could not, in a way, be any more Dutch. It’s about being chill on the one hand, but also ensuring everyone enjoys the evening on the other. The Dutch will really make an effort to bring a good mood and vibe for the benefit of their friends and try to steer clear of negative energy. And, well, with gezelligheid as a philosophy for social settings, it’s really no wonder the Netherlands ranks so highly in world happiness lists.

5. Fika and lagom in Sweden

Another philosophy for a happy life from this part of Europe is fika. Fika is a Swedish concept for slowing down over coffee and cake, but beyond the Swedes’ delectable daily treats breaks, fika also describes a nationwide and institutionalized state of mind for recharging, connecting, and creating one’s own daily oasis. Stopping work for a short period to relax and regenerate the mind is viewed as an essential moment by the Swedes for coming back more productive. Interacting with friends and colleagues outside of business chitchat is also seen as a staple for improving their well-being, while taking the time to create our own little sphere of happiness each day is understood as foundational for sustaining positive energy.

6. Hakuna Matata in East Africa

For this one we have Walt Disney to thank for its almost universal understanding. “Hakuna-matata” means, as Timon and Pumbaa once sang along the Sahara, having absolutely no worries. Because, well, why worry? One day it will surely be fine, so what’s the point in stressing if the situation is out of your hands? By worrying over calamities, those who live by Hakuna Matata know that it will only make you less happy and unproductive. While this philosophy is almost synonymous with the Lion King, it actually finds its origins in East Africa and is a phrase of the Swahili language. But if happiness is what we’re looking for, a trip down Disney lane is always a good place to start. 

7. Wabi-sabi in Japan

To wrap up the list of the seven secrets to a happier life, we go to the traditional Japanese philosophy of Wabi-Sabi. As part of Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi is derived from Buddhist thought and is a concept that challenges us to start accepting all of life’s transience and imperfection. From broken ceramic pots upcycled with streaks of golden glue to viewing past mistakes as the lessons that made you the individual you are today, wabi-sabi is all about appreciating the flaws or abnormalities both within and around us and learning to embrace them as the things that offer originality.

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