Scandinavian countries — that's Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland — routinely top the list of the happiest countries in the world. So what's their big secret?
Besides some truly excellent meatballs and minimalist design (hello, IKEA!), the nordic countries have some unique traditions that can help explain how they maintain such happy, healthy lives. And they're life rituals well-worth imitating.
Try Applying These Uniquely Nordic Traditions & Mindsets to Your Own Life:
Embrace a "Hygge" Lifestyle
The Danish term hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) has recently begun permeating American culture, with good reason. The word generally translates to “cosy," but it can be used to describe a number of things, from a nubby pair of socks to comfortable home decor. But hygge is ultimately about a state of mind, a way of finding comfort and happiness in the small things, like the way a hot cup of tea warms your body, or how relaxing it can feel when you slip out of work clothes and into pajamas at the end of the day.
APPLY IT YOURSELF: While it may not be possible to be cozy all the time, it can be easy to embrace the idea of appreciating simplicity. Little steps, like setting aside time each day to disconnect from screens, building a comfortable nook in your living room, or practicing mindfulness through your daily activities, can help you become just a little more hygge. We can help, too: Try Z Living's popular mindfulness fitness shows like Namaste Yoga and Fitness First, on every weekday. Find out where to watch.
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Cook Like a Scandinavian Foodie
In 2004, several high-profile nordic chefs and food connoisseurs came together to create the New Nordic Food Manifesto. The movement is centered around several pillars in regards to food, included a focus on simplicity and freshness, choosing seasonal ingredients, protecting natural resources, and striking a balance between healthy and delicious. In 2013, they took the movement one step further by developing the Nordic Children’s Kitchen Manifesto aimed at involving kids in the cooking process in order to learn to cook healthy food.
APPLY IT YOURSELF: Freshen up your eating habits and develop a healthier cooking routine by centering your meals around fresh, seasonal ingredients. Farmer’s markets are a great place to shop for produce farmed locally and a trip there can inspire new recipe ideas. Experiment with spices and seasonings to create healthy meals that are also exciting to eat. Last, but not least, involve your whole family in the meal-making process, from choosing ingredients to prepping and cooking in the kitchen.
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Hop On That Bike!
In Denmark, bicycle riding is so entrenched in the culture that many workplaces have specific changing rooms just for those who bike to work. Over 50 percent of the population of Copenhagen uses a bicycle as its main mode of transport to and from work, so it's no wonder Denmark is ranked as one of the healthiest (and most sustainable) countries in the world. Think of your own bike, less as simple recreation, and more as serious transportation this new year.
APPLY IT YOURSELF: Start out small, if a complete transformation to bicycle power seems overwhelming. Biking to work just one day a week can go a long way to helping you get fit and, as a bonus, reducing your carbon footprint. From there you can build up to relying on your bike as a main mode of transportation.
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Think T.G.I. Fredagsmys
After a long week taking some time to unwind and let go of the stresses of work and school can help pivot you into a weekend mindset, so that you can relax, enjoy your time off, and be refreshed for the new week. That’s exactly the concept behind Fredagsmys. Since the early 90s, Swedes have been dusting their troubles away by cozying up on Friday evenings with tasty treats, some TV watching, and, most importantly, the company of family and friends. Fredagsymys is a good reminder that you don’t have to do anything special to enjoy some quality bonding time with your loved ones. Just a snuggle on the couch and a shared bowl of popcorn can be a great way to show some love.
APPLY IT YOURSELF: Start your own Fredagsmys tradition. When the end of the week rolls around, pull on your sweatpants, fire up your favorite comfort food, and curl up with your loved ones to do absolutely nothing, but enjoy each other’s company and relax.
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What are some ways you’ll be making yourself happier in the New Year? Share your ideas in the comments.