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Six ways to increase your happiness levels

Experiences make us happier than things – and other tips from Meik Wiking, the world’s leading happiness expert


Meik Wiking is CEO of The Happiness Research Institute and the author of The Little Book of Hygge and The Little Book of Lykke (Penguin).

 

Your happiness level is determined by many factors: genetics, your age, environment, your relationships, your job, and so on. But experiences we choose to have and decisions we make about our own behaviour on a daily level, can have a huge impact on our happiness levels. The Danish word , (pronounced lookah), is simply our word for happiness. But happiness itself is a concept with many elements. We should look at different dimensions within it, from a profound satisfaction with life, to short, ‘peak’ experiences where we have high levels of happiness. The basic premise of a lot of advertising is that a purchase will make you happy, but experiences that we have are what is really key.

Find the ‘flow’ moment

The concept of ‘flow’ experiences is something that was primarily discovered among athletes and artists – that when they became fully involved in a task on which they were concentrating, they lost a sense of self and time. It’s a pleasant state to be in, because you lose that nagging voice at the back of your mind that worries about what is happening tomorrow or what happened yesterday. It could be writing or painting. For me, it’s when I ski that I feel that most keenly. I also danced tango for a few years and that was similar – being aware of my body somehow helped me not to be stuck in my body.

Move your body

To move more, to get out, and to walk instead of sitting, is something that contributes to happiness levels. From a practical point of view, a good way to do this is to build in more exercise on a micro-level. Denmark has one of the biggest shares of people who exercise more than five hours a week, and that’s not because we all like hitting the gym, but because the majority of Danes cycle to work and our transportation is a form of exercise. It’s also more likely to mean you are feeling the benefits of time outside or in nature. The relationship between health and happiness goes both ways. Naturally, we are unhappy if we’re ill, but the preventative effect of happiness means you’re more likely to be healthy if you’re happy.

Create rituals for time together

Our connection with others, a sense of community, togetherness and belonging, whether it’s on a national or city level, or between loved ones, is hugely impactful on our happiness. A Canadian journalist who read my book about told me he decided to start lighting candles on a chandelier for family dinners at home. His teenage sons began by making fun of him but it turned into a ritual of food and fire and he noticed that they eventually began to light the candles themselves. He also noticed that the dinners started to last 15 or 20 minutes longer. It put his sons in a storytelling mood, where they felt able to talk about their day rather than just shovelling down their food. It’s an example I like because it shows how adding a simple framework can affect how we behave.

Give your shopping a deeper meaning

A Ted talk I participated in a few years ago was a big step for me. I had 18 minutes to deliver the talk and every second counted, so I had to weigh my words carefully. I had for some time wanted a particular watch, but I waited until after delivering the Ted talk and purchased it in memory of that, so that I would always associate it with that achievement. Now whenever I look down at it, it has that association for me. It’s possible to make changes that will build memories, life accomplishments and associations with other people, into our relationship with things.

Take time to travel

Travel has some definite happiness benefits. Looking forward to travel creates pleasure before you even experience it, and when we do it with other people we create common anecdotes, memories and connections. When we experience how other people and cultures live we can gather inspiration for our own lives and become more grateful for what we have in our lives at home.

Stop waiting for a windfall

The biggest misconception is that more money will always make you happier. Having no money makes you unhappy, yes. But once you reach a certain level of income, there’s a diminishing marginal return – the more we have of something, the less pleasure we derive from it, and that goes for money as well. Even a vast increase in income will not make you happier after a certain point. What we need to work towards is decoupling wealth from happiness.

Meik Wiking’s latest book is The Little Book of Lykke