6 of the Top Happiness-Boosting Secrets from Around the World

Photo: Getty Images / Witthaya Prasongsin
It's a common pursuit to live a happy life, but knowing how to attain that happiness can be tough. As with most things, though, learning from others can be helpful. And in this case, taking stock of worldwide happiness secrets can be a powerful tool for achieving and preserving a happy state of being.

According to Helen Russell, a journalist who has studied global happiness and wrote The Year of Living Danishly and The Atlas of Happiness, there are certain happiness-boosting habits that are common to many countries, like social interactions, exercising outdoors, and finding a work-life balance. There are also happiness-boosting tips that are more specific to to certain locales—and we can learn from these in order to imbue our own lives with more happiness.

“Understanding how different nations view happiness can impact how we interact with one another going forward.” —Helen Russell, author

That's exactly what Russell did: “By learning from other cultures about happiness, well-being, and how to stay healthy and sane, I developed a better understanding of the challenges, subtleties, and nuances of being alive,” she says. “Learning what matters to people on the other side of the planet helps us all, since understanding how different nations view happiness can impact how we interact with one another going forward.”

Experts In This Article

Ahead, find six of Russell’s favorite happiness-boosting secrets from around the world—from Brazil and Italy to Sweden and beyond.

6 worldwide happiness secrets, according to a happiness researcher

1. Saudade, from Brazil

“In [Brazilian] Portuguese, there’s something called saudade, which is a feeling of longing, melancholy, and nostalgia for a happiness that once was—or even a happiness you merely hoped for,” says Russell. The concept is so central to Brazil's culture and its people's well-being that it’s celebrated annually on January 30 with Saudade Day. The main way this tip can function as a life booster is the opportunity it affords to connect with some form of sadness, which can sometimes function as the secret ingredient for happiness.

“Most of us will have experienced a bittersweet pleasure in moments of melancholy—[flipping] through old photos, or caring about anyone enough to miss them when they’re gone,” says Russell. But these brief moments of sadness can provide catharsis, improve our attention to detail, increase perseverance, and promote generosity, says Russell. So, she encourages folks looking for a happiness boost to “spend time remembering those [they’ve] loved and lost, then practice being a little more grateful for the ones still around.”

2. Meraki, from Greece

The term meraki refers to “an introspective, precise expression of care, usually applied to a cherished pastime,” says Russell. This worldwide happiness secret works to improve life quality by way of challenging oneself to do something different, which in turn creates new neural pathways in our brain and adds value if, say, a person's nine-to-five is more so a daily grind than a labor of love, she adds.

“Having a passion that you take pride in can be of extra benefit to those who can’t say the same for their primary occupation,” Russell says. “Many tasks that need to be taken care of on a day-to-day basis aren’t particularly challenging or inspiring—from filing, to raising purchase orders or even, dare I say it, some of the more grueling aspects of parenting.”

Breaking up what feels like a never-ending cycle of mundane work through hobbies you enjoy and that are challenging to you is the paragon of meraki, and practicing it can give you something to look forward to, Russell says, thereby boosting your happiness.

3. Dolce far niente, from Italy

Russell has dubbed Italians the “kings and queens of the carefree” and says that the phrase dolce far niente underscores that truth. The phrase translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing,” says Russell, who adds that the concept is “all about savoring the moment and really enjoying the present.”

We all deserve to enjoy ourselves year-round—not just when we’re on vacation.

“Instead of saving up their ‘fun quota’ for an annual escape or a boozy weekend, Italians spread it over the minutes, hours, and days throughout the year,” she says, reminding that we all deserve to enjoy ourselves year-round—not just when we’re on vacation. So take her tip and emulate the Italian concept to boost your happiness.

4. Friluftsliv, from Norway

In 2017, the the World Happiness Report named Norway the happiest country in the world, and it's continued to rank as top happy nation in the years since, providing evidence that Norwegians know a thing or two about worldwide happiness secrets. One of their top tips worth copying is the concept of friluftsliv, aka "free air life"—especially in cold temperatures.

“It’s a code of conduct as well as a life goal for most Norwegians, who like to spend time outdoors as often as possible,” Russell says. But it’s not just spending time outdoors that makes this tip one of many worldwide happiness secrets—it’s also the mindset behind it.

“Most Norwegians believe you have to work for things—to earn them with physical endeavors, [or by] battling the elements. Only once you’ve [literally] climbed a mountain in the rain and cold can you truly enjoy your dinner,” Russell says. While you might not have to climb mountains to get a full friluftsliv benefit, going for a walk or spending time in a lush yard can be good ways to spend time in nature boost your happiness, health, and well-being in the process.

5. Smultronställe, from Sweden

One of Russell’s favorite worldwide happiness secrets hails from Sweden and is called smultronställe, a concept that literally translates to "field of wild strawberries" or "wild strawberry patch." Essentially, smultronställe means that you go to a place where you can’t or won’t be bothered; this is “a place you can go to when you’re stressed or tired or overwhelmed—[it’s] your happy place that just makes you feel better,” she says.

Essentially, smultronställe means that you go to a place where you can’t or won’t be bothered.

Though this happiness secret is often tied to spending time outdoors, practicing it indoors isn’t necessarily frowned upon so long as it’s your personal happy place. “It can also be as simple as a favorite chair or, in my case, hiding in the back of my walk-in wardrobe,” Russell says. Having your own smultronställe when needed, she adds, can help you "stay calm, restore balance, and feel rejuvenated."

6. Wabi sabi and kintsugi, from Japan

Adopting the Japanese philosophy of wabi sabi, or the beauty of imperfection, can be impactful for well-being and happiness. There really is beauty in imperfection, and accepting that can make us feel better when not everything is exactly the way we want it to be.

Also from Japanese culture is kintsugi, which is similar in spirit to that of wabi sabi. It refers to the ancient Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics with metallic lacquer, says Russell. Where others might see a pile of broken pieces that can’t or shouldn’t be fixed, kintsugi celebrates the imperfections and repairs those pieces by putting them back together in a more extravagant way than the ceramic was before. “We all have scars of one kind or another,” says Russell. “We should celebrate them rather than attempting to conceal them.”

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