The Little Book of Lykke Summary and Review

by Meik Wiking
Has The Little Book of Lykke by Meik Wiking been sitting on your reading list? Pick up the key ideas in the book with this quick summary. Nearly anyone you talk to would agree that having a little more happiness in their life would be amazing. Well, what better place to look for it than Denmark, the country considered to be one of the happiest places on Earth. Author Meik Wiking has compiled the many reasons for Danish overall happiness, from transportation, to education, to community activism and charity work – there is plenty of data and research to back up the reasons these factors might affect happiness. So, if you’ve ever considered moving to Denmark to live the good life, it might help to look at why Denmark is so generally happy in the first place. You might even be able to stay in your home city, and instead, apply Danish life lessons to your current life, and you might come out of it a whole lot happier. In this book summary, you’ll also learn:
  • how taking a bike around Copenhagen makes its citizens happier;
  • how older generations can help new parents find happiness; and
  • why flying first class can cause so much air rage.
Spending time one on one with others, rather than online, is essential to your own happiness. Every once in a while, the happiest countries in the world are ranked, and there’s one place that nearly always comes out on top: Denmark. But what is it that makes it one of the happiest places on Earth? According to the United Nations’ World Happiness Report, a strong sense of community within your country is essential to happiness, especially when people are united for a common good. When people feel like the community is there for everyone else, it allows them to rest easier and be happier, especially in difficult times. In 2014, the results of a Gallup poll showed that nine out of ten Danes don’t mind taxes, and are even happy to pay them, even though the average national income tax rate is 45 percent. For people who earn over €61,500, the income tax rate is a whopping 52 percent. Because their tax money is going toward benefiting the common good, Danes are more than willing to pay their taxes. The taxpayers see their taxes as a safety net: all Danes know they’ll be taken care of if they get sick or lose their job. Denmark was also the first nation to establish bofælleskaber, or “living communities.” Living communities are cohousing arrangements, where families and residents voluntarily live and establish small, self-sustaining neighborhoods. The first bofællesskab appeared under the influence of writer Bodil Graae, who wrote an influential editorial, entitled “Children Should Have 100 Parents.” The article inspired the establishment of Sætterdammen, a community in Hillerød, just north of Copenhagen, after being a solid endorsement of communal life. As of 2017, nearly  50,000 Danes live within cohousing communities, and there are even more similar communities popping up in Europe and North America. However, happiness can also be found in disconnecting from the virtual world. In 2015, the Happiness Research Institute monitored participants who were asked to stay away from Facebook for seven days. Sure enough, the people in the study recorded decreased feelings of loneliness and generally more satisfaction with life. Of course, disconnecting sounds easier than it might actually be. However, it definitely helps motivate you if you get your friends and family to disconnect along with you. By joining forces, and choosing some hours of the day, or days of the week to be tech-free, you’ll be able to learn to get the most out of life together, with your phones hidden away. Money doesn’t make you happier, but having an experience to look forward to does. Most people would agree with the age old adage: money doesn’t buy happiness, but as it turns out, wealthier countries actually tend to be happier countries. But don’t be fooled into believing in a direct connection between wealth and happiness. For example, in South Korea, in just two generations, the country has been transformed from one of the poorest nations in the world to one of the wealthiest. But this doesn’t get rid of the fact that South Korea still has one of the highest suicide rates per capita and, on the list of the happiest countries, is ranked fifty-fifth. As shown in multiple studies, it’s the experiences we have that directly affect our overall happiness, rather than money, and anticipation for these experiences is a crucial factor. After numerous studies, researchers Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton discovered that, in order to feel happier from monetary experiences, 57 percent of people required both the purchase of the desired product and the anticipation of making that purchase. Only 34 percent said actually experienced an increase in happiness from simply purchasing the product alone. This can be incredibly beneficial if you try to link making these purchases to an upcoming occasion you’re looking forward to or to celebrating reaching a certain goal. For example, if you’re looking to buy a new recliner for your living room, it’ll be more fulfilling to wait and not order one immediately. Instead, the purchase can work as a good motivator and reward for getting something important done. This way, not only will you gain more happiness by actually finally ordering your new chair, but you’ll be constantly be reminded of the satisfaction of completing that task every time you spend time in the chair. You can also plan ahead in order to take advantage of the anticipation leading up to the purchase. Although you might want to be spontaneous, it also brings a lot of happiness to schedule the fun things you’re looking forward to in advance so that, while you wait, you can enjoy knowing that something amazing is coming up. It’s also important to note that there are some things that can easily kill your happiness, including comparing your wealth to the wealth of others. People like to flaunt their money, which can make it really hard not to compare yourself, which is something that nineteenth-century sociologist, Thorstein Veblen, called “conspicuous consumption.” Veblen explained that people tend to spend more money than they actually have so that they can appear more wealthy than they actually are. With everyone in society participating in conspicuous consumption, it becomes like constant competition, with everyone trying to outshine each other, whereas, in reality, this really only ends up with everyone broke and miserable. So for the sake of your own happiness, it’s important to resist comparing your wealth to anyone else’s. Taking care of your health and body can lead to a happier life. Anyone could use a little extra motivation to go to the gym or for for a jog. So it’s important to keep in mind that being physically healthy can actually lead to more happiness. Danes are incredibly healthy people, which is another contributing factor for their overall happiness, and a huge reason they’re so healthy is because there are so many people who bike instead of drive. According to a 2017 study by the University of Glasgow, the simple act of biking to work can decrease a person’s risk of premature death by 41 percent! In Copenhagen, 63 percent of people bike to work, and in all of Denmark, 17 percent of alltrips are done by bike. Plus, for every kilometer traveled by bike in Copenhagen, the city saves around seven cents because biking reduces traffic, air pollution, and road and infrastructure damage. Even if you don’t have access to a bike, there are still plenty of ways to travel happier. A study at Montreal’s McGill University looked at all modes of transportation with the goal of finding out which type makes commuters the happiest. From this study, it was found that walking makes people the happiest, while taking the bus made them the least happy. So if you want to be healthier, and therefore happier, a great way to do that is to walk or bike to work, if you’re able to. Being healthy doesn’t mean simply a healthy body – a healthy mind is also important for overall happiness. In Japan, a popular activity known as Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” involves experiencing the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest. Immersing yourself in nature in a similar way had been shown to improve physical and mental health. While it’s pretty common for cultures to encourage better mental health, there are still many places that look down upon people who seek professional help. South Korea is a culture that falls into this category. Because of this, they rank near the bottom when it comes to how many people are being treated for depression, and near the top when it comes to the number of suicides per capita. The good news is, worldwide views on mental health are changing, especially because many public figures are speaking out about their own mental health. The British royal family’s Prince Harry has spoken out about his own struggles and encouraged others to seek help when times get tough. The more free time you have, the happier you will be. Freedom is one of the most important contributing factors to happiness. While freedom means making the choices you want and following your dreams, there’s another, often overlooked, aspect to freedom: free time. Time off is important to a healthy work-life balance, and when it comes countries that give their workers free time, Denmark ranks among the world’s best. Most people in the United States and United Kingdom find it perfectly normal to work a long day ending at 5:00 p.m. but this is a bit excessive to the people in Denmark. The average Dane puts in about 300 fewer work hours per year than the average American – 1,457 as opposed to 1,790. Parents, especially, are often desperate for free time, and Denmark has new parents covered as well, allotting 52 weeks of paid leave to be divided between both parents. Parents, though, often need more than just time off of work — they often also need a helping hand. This is crucial because of something called the parental happiness gap, which shows that, statistically speaking, new parents are not as happy as people in the same age group with no kids. To better understand this, let’s take a look at Portugal, the country with the happiest parents in the world. 72 percent of new parents in Portugal say that the child’s grandparents have a lot to do with raising the child, and so naturally, with this kind of support, parents will be allowed more time to themselves and will therefore be happier. Due to this, in Denmark, there is something called the “Bonus Grandparents” program. This is for families whose grandparents are unable to be involved in raising the child. The program joins families who are part of the program with senior citizens in the community, which can give the parents more time to themselves and give the seniors a sense of purpose – it’s a real win-win! Another group you might expect to be less happy are the self-employed. According to the World Happiness Report, people who work for themselves work harder for less pay and don’t have a lot of job security. But despite these facts, freelancers actually are happier, both with their jobs and with their lives. Even though they might have less free time, freelancers have other freedoms that come from working for themselves, from the freedom to pursue their passions, to the freedom to turn down undesirable clients and adjust their schedule as much as they need. Happiness is also dependent on deep trust and empathy. Yes or no: do you think that, if you lost a wallet full of money, a stranger would return it to you? Most people did not think the answer would be “yes” when asked by the Canadian General Social Society as part of a study, but when this scenario was tested, by dropping twenty wallets around the city, 80 percent were returned with no money missing. The fact that 75 percent of people who were questioned in the survey said no suggests that the general population of people don’t trust their neighbors, which is a shame, because trust is a contributing factor to more happiness. It’s important to think about how micro-managing can reduce your happiness. In Copenhagen, people working in social care used to be incredibly micromanaged. When working with elderly clients, each task was planned, down to the second, so they were forced to only spend a certain amount of time on one task. In 2011, however, there were a lot of reforms made to this type of work, so that workers were only required to clock in when they arrived at a client’s home , and then clock out when they leave. They weren’t required to spend a certain amount of time on any specific task. Really, what this meant, was that employees were trusted more with their tasks. It was assumed that they’d do a good job, and now, they were able to truly respond to the client’s needs and respond with the best care they could provide. This new project was very successful because costs stayed stable and worker satisfaction skyrocketed, so, soon, a “trust reform” spread throughout the public sector of Copenhagen and into other countries. What are some ways to develop more trust in your life? A good place to start is with the practice of empathy. According to a 2015 study by the American Journal of Public Health, preschoolers who demonstrated more empathy had a higher rate of success in their future education and employment. These same people also had better mental health and lower rates of crime and substance abuse later in life. In Denmark, the school system focuses a lot on developing a child’s social and emotional skills. It might actually be discussed with young students why a person might experience certain emotions when looking at pictures of different emotional expressions. According to New York’s New School for Social Research, reading stories together is another great way to improve sensitivity and empathy. Sure enough, this is common practice in Scandinavian countries. It’s also believed that having these practices present in schools is what leads to these countries having a lower rate of bullying. Any type of inequality, from economic inequality to perceived inequality, can reduce happiness. Here’s another question to consider: Do you believe most people can be trusted? Most people who have answered “yes” to this question live in areas of economic equality. This is because, in a society where people consider each other to be more equal, they also see others as cooperators, and not competition. Because of this, people’s feelings about trust change as the level of inequality rises. Currently, especially in the United States and United Kingdom, social inequality is on the rise, and people are starting to trust each other less and less. This can have serious negative repercussions. Researchers at the University of Nottingham and the University of York have done research that shows that not only does inequality lead to people trusting each other less, but it also decreases empathy, leads to people being more unhealthy, and increases rates of violence, crime, obesity, and teen pregnancy. Therefore, it’s easy to say that inequality can really decrease our overall happiness. Primatologist Frans de Waal demonstrated that these feelings can be primal. De Waal did a study with capuchin monkeys where the monkey had to give him a stone, and in return, would receive a cucumber. Things changed though, when one capuchin received a much-preferred grape instead of a cucumber. The other monkeys immediately showed anger toward this injustice, some throwing the cucumbers they once loved back at de Waal. A similar experience happens when people are traveling, shown through the phenomenon called “air rage.” In instances of inequality during air travel, anger often erupts and people can sometimes get violent. Researchers Katherine DeCelles, from the Harvard Business School, and Michael Norton, of the University of Toronto, note that one of the worst contributing factors to air rage is the presence of a first class section, and any feelings of inequality can make air rage worse. These factors can make passengers up to four times angrier, which is more anger than a nine-hour delay can cause. This is even more of a problem of the economy class have to walk through first class to reach their seats. This only doubles the likelihood of someone eventually experiencing air rage. Being kind and charitable to others can help your own happiness. Most people are familiar with the warm, fuzzy feeling that comes after you do something kind for someone else with no expectation of reciprocation. This is known as helper’s high, which can easily be integrated into all aspects of your life. It comes from from the nucleus accumbens, when you do something kind for someone. This is the area of the brain that also provides the good feelings that come from eating and sex. Researchers at the National Institute of Health in the United States have found that when presented with the opportunity to give money to charity, this area of the brain lights up in the same way that it would had the person been thinking about eating a delicious meal or having sex. This actually makes a lot of sense when you think of it in terms of evolutions, since we came from a time where our very survival depended upon the help of others. So, even though volunteering feels like a completely selfless act, it actually benefits you as well as the person you’re going out of your way to help. Even when you consider all the factors that might influence a person’s life, the truth is, people who volunteer are happier than those who don’t. It may appear that people who give their time are already happy people, but it’s actually pretty likely that those who volunteer simply feel more grateful for what they already have because they’ve been exposed to people who have much less than them. There are also numerous studies that show that people who volunteer have more friendships and social relationships than people who don’t give their time. If you’re wondering if Danes are active volunteers, the answer is yes. According to the Danish Institute for Voluntary Effort, 70 percent of Danes have spent their time giving back sometime in the last five years. So, why aren’t more people volunteering if there are so many benefits? According to Jill Loga of the Norwegian Institute for Social Research, in order to convince more people to volunteer their time, there needs to be more of an influence on the benefits of giving your time, from the added friendships to the helper’s high. There are also many resources to help you get started if the benefits are starting to entice you: RAKtivists is a group of activists who practice random acts of kindness and encourage others to be better versions of themselves. You can find out more at Be My Eyes is a free app allows visually impaired users to connect with sighted users when they need help reading or identifying something. There’s also a really good chance that there might be an organization in your own community you can volunteer with, and it might even support a cause you really care about. In Review: The Little Book of Lykke The key message in this book: Even though it may seem like Scandinavian countries have a monopoly on happiness, there are actually a lot of small changes we can make to our lives to improve our own happiness and that of the people around us. If we work to build communities based on trust, and those full of healthy, fair, and generous people, everyone will benefit.  Actionable advice: Try these simple steps to bring your community closer together. Set up a mini take-a-book-leave-a-book library in a communal space by setting up a collection of books for your neighbors to choose from. Put up a sign telling people the books are free to borrow as long as they leave as many as they take. Another great option is to start a community garden with some of your neighbors so that as a group, you can help maintain it.