The Atlas of Happiness – Helen Russell

“Optimism isn’t frivolous: it’s necessary. If we feel hopeless all the time, if we’re always in crisis, the natural response is to give up and stop trying altogether. But we can’t let snark win. Problems are there to be solved. Challenges, to be met. We can be aware of the bad whilst also being mindful of how we can make it better.”

It is this idea of how we can make it better which no doubt inspired Helen Russell (author of How to Live Danishly, Leap Year and Gone Viking) to go on a literary journey round the world to discover how different nations and cultures embrace happiness and summarise the take home messages from each one.

No surprises that the happy, idyllic ‘Scandi’ nations make the cut but some may be surprised to find the inclusion of more stereotypically sombre nations like Russia, Switzerland and eh, England… It might sound harsh but in the World Happiness Report published each year by the United Nations the UK regularly fails to reach the top 10. But these are sweeping stereotypes and of course all world citizens have their own ways to happiness and The Atlas of Happiness is a fascinating insight into some little known ideas, many of which have been drowned out by the popularity of the Danish ‘hygge’ which interestingly, and probably deliberately, isn’t covered in this round-the-world journey. Instead readers are introduced to ‘arbejdsglæde’ – try and say that after a glass of wine! – a word which encapsulates the Danish attitude to work.

Russell’s conversational and convivial style make this an easy to read book and I’m sure each reader will take their own messages from it, relating more to some ideas of happiness than others. Readers will also be culturally educated and perhaps add some of the countries covered to their very own travel bucket lists.

For my part I have summarised what I considered to be the take home ‘happiness techniques’ I’m going to try and do more of in 2019:

  • Live in the moment
  • Be grateful
  • Try new things
  • Get outside
  • Love those who love you
  • Be nice
  • Eat well
  • Get creative
  • Listen to music
  • Be social
  • Get a work/life balance
  • Remember, it’s about the journey, not just the destination

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