Life / Health

Get more lykke in your life: Scandinavia-mania and the pursuit of happiness

Amid a growing fascination with all things Scandinavian, a new book looks at lykke (a Norwegian buzzword for happiness) and how we can live better lives.

How can you be as &quotlykke" as the Danes, some of the happiest people in the world? A new book claims to have the answer.

Istock / E+

How can you be as "lykke" as the Danes, some of the happiest people in the world? A new book claims to have the answer.

Scandinavians know how to live well. Or, depending who you ask, they've perfected the subtle Viking art of extracting money from the wallets of uptight English-speakers by recasting regular words as lucrative lifestyle trends.

It all started with hygge (pronounced hoo-gah), the untranslatable Danish word that means coziness, togetherness, comfort and warmth all combined. Hygge-mania drove the 2016 bonanza of oversized mugs, fluffy socks, roaring fires and candles. So many candles. And in what many see as dark political times, what could be more welcome?

Well, hygge does have a dark side. Anyone who is too offbeat or out there is apt to be scolded for "spoiling the hygge," Danish author Dorthe Nors has said, and "suppression of difference" is inherent in the idea.

But that part of it seems mostly lost in translation. Dozens of hygge books have hit shelves in the past year.

Hygge hype-man Meik Wiking, author of 2016's Little Book of Hygge, is back this fall with a followup, The Little Book of Lykke. Lykke (luh-kah), it seems, is less complicated. It simply means happiness in Norwegian, though the word is used around the region.

It's all part of the growing fascination with all things Scandinavian (or #Scandi, in social media speak). Lykke likely won't be the only new Nordic word you learn this year.

But why? And why now?


Lena Karlström, lecturer in Swedish and Scandinavian studies at UBC, said, "I think people are intrigued by the bleak dystopian culture they meet in Scandinavian crime literature, films and TV shows .. and how it is contrasted with ... Scandinavians living a safe, happy life."

Kim Sandvad West, who teaches Danish studies at UBC, thinks it has to do with the political climate: “Both Bernie Sanders and Oprah Winfrey are talking highly about Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries," because they perennially get top marks in equality and well-being. "When getting to learn the rest of the world, Scandinavia may be a good or even easy place to start.”

He said he'd like to see the Finnish words "sisu" (inner drive that leads you to never give up) and "kalsarikännit" (staying at home in your underwear getting drunk with absolutely no intention of going anywhere) catch on next.

"I'm surprised, even as a Dane, to hear that lykke is the new thing, as it is so subjective," West said.

But if you are looking to get more lykke into your life — and who doesn't want to be happier? — here are Wiking's top tips:

1) Commute better and move more


One of the simplest ways to increase your happiness quickly is to drop your long-haul commute. Stop driving or toiling for an hour on the bus and bike or walk instead. If that's not possible: "Take the stairs, have a meeting while going for a walk and park as far away from the supermarket entrance as possible," Wiking writes.

2) Get to know your neighbours


The Danish enjoy so much lykke because they spend time with people who live in their immediate surroundings, Wiking writes. So build connections by creating a directory (like a mailing list) of the people who live on your street. That lets you share skills and resources and organize gatherings.

3) Unplug


One small 2015 study found ditching Facebook for a week led to dramatically more happiness. Wiking suggests a weekly digital detox. And as many people as possible to join you, because if everyone else is Snapchatting away, you're going to feel lonely and left out.

So what's the next phase of Scandinavia Mania?

Hygge is so 2016. Lykke is hot now. Here are a few Scandinavian words you may not know yet – but will.


Language: Swedish.

Pronounce it: Log-uhm

Literal translation: Moderate.

What it means: Not too much, not too little, just right. Like hygge and lykke, Lagom can be a whole life philosophy. It's moderation – semi-skimmed milk, functional-attractive IKEA furniture, self-denial – paired with a commitment to enjoying life nonetheless. Vogue calls Lagom a “frugal yet fruitful” existence. Search Pinterest for Lagom and you'll see white-on-white interiors, chunky towels in neutral colours, windows with seaside views and a hand-painted sign adorned with the phrase, “Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” Also, a guinea pig in a tiny log cabin. Pinterest is weird.


Language: Swedish.

Pronounce it: Dah-Stad-ning

Literal translation: Death cleaning

What it means: It's basically Marie Kondo's minimalist, anti-clutter philosophy, with a splash of Nordic Noir. In octagenarian Margareta Magnusson's upcoming book, The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, she explains how to purge your home of uncessary junk, specifically keeping in mind that you don't want to leave your loved ones a mess to clean up after you die.


Language: Swedish

Literal translation: Coffee

Pronounce it: Feeka

Although it's gotten some attention already, Fika deserves a wider following. It's the Scandi equivalent of a siesta; a mid-afternoon pause in the workday to enjoy a moment of calm with friends or co-workers and snack on a dantily sized, not-too-sweet Swedish pastry.

Semla (plural semlor)

Language: Swedish. Known in Denmark and Norway as fastelavnsbolle

Literal translation: Sweet bun

This is actually just a bun, traditionally served at Easter, that is filled with almond paste, absolutely piled with whipped cream and flavoured with cardamom. It can't be turned into a complete lifestyle but it sounds like an indulgent Fika treat.

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