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What is the secret of happiness? Everyone claims to have their own reasoning behind it, whether the secret is helping others, or exercising, or learning, or religion. But, today, we’re going to talk about those books that claim to have happiness hints from around the world. Why are the Danish so happy? The Japanese? The Swedish? Pick a book and see what makes these other cultures so happy. With any luck, you can incorporate these into your day-to-day and become a happier person, too!

I’m not going to lie…The Little Book of Hygge was the title that inspired this whole list in the first place. When it first came out, this book was so incredibly popular, and got me thinking about the idea of a cultural art to happy living. The secret? Hygge is a type of cozy feeling, like curling up in dry clothes after you’ve been out in the rain, enjoying the warm sunshine on your face, or special time spent with a very dear friend. If you want to find happiness the Danish way, it appears the best way to do that is to embrace the art of cozy. Be comfortable, be relax, and slow down. If you like the concept of cozy, then consider checking out a second list that I’ve written, all about being as cozy as possible. If your idea of happiness is a fluffy blanket and a warm and cuddly state of mind, then my suggested list of How to Be Cozy will be just right for you!

If cozy isn’t your thing, then perhaps you’d enjoy Niksen: Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing. In a culture that can’t stop running and doing, the concept of doing nothing sounds absolutely shocking. How can I do nothing? I have so much to get done! Whether it’s work or shopping, working out, socializing, spending time with the kids, taking care of elderly relatives, doing homework, or chores around the house, Americans are always busy, busy, busy. Perhaps that’s why we’re not exactly happy. Niksen is all about making a conscious choice to stop what you’re doing and take some time to do nothing at all. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through our favorite social media sites, or stressing about our to-do lists, niksen encourages us to just relax. If you’re feeling overworked or burned out, consider taking the time to take some time, just to sit back, close your eyes, and let everything go.

Do you know what really stresses me out? Clutter. Seeing piles and piles of…stuff…everywhere…I hate it. So, if you’re like me, the idea of getting rid of things, whether it’s mine or someone else’s can be very satisfying, and can help you feel less bogged down and happier. In The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, the Swedes take it a step further. Döstädning, or “death cleaning” is an invigorating process of removing surplus clutter from your life here and now, so that your family will not have to deal with it after your death. It sounds really morbid, but it’s a great concept. Is this item meaningful to you? Will your family want it once you’re gone? If you answered no to both, then why bother keeping it? Whether it’s old clothes that you’ll never wear, gifts you never opened (and quite frankly never wanted), or potentially useful items that you never actually use, there’s no point in keeping them if their fate is to become clutter that will have to be dealt with by someone else. Clean up your mess, make some space, and feel happier and freer than you have in years.

And while we’re on the topic of cleaning and happiness, let’s look at perhaps one of the most popular cleaning books to come out in years: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Marie Kondo’s approach is deceptively simple: does something spark joy? If not, why are you keeping it? With this simple tactic, you can clean up entire rooms full of clutter and make your house more organized and more beautiful. This Japanese technique will astound you with how easy it is to do. First, you take all of the ________ that you have and put it together in one room. So, that might mean all of your books. All of your shoes or your coats. Now, look through each item. If it sparks joy (makes you happy, proves, useful, etc.), you can put it back into the now empty space prepared for it. And if it doesn’t spark joy, then you can thank it quietly for its service and either give it away or donate it to someone else who will appreciate it and benefit from the item. If you enjoyed this book, consider checking out level two of Kondo’s “master class” with Spark Joy.

The Danish recommend coziness, the Dutch doing nothing, the Japanese and Swedish suggest removing clutter, and in South Africa, they speak of interconnectedness. Now, we come to Finland, with the fun and unorthodox suggestion of kalsarikänni, otherwise known as Päntsdrunk, or drinking home alone, in your underwear. The idea is not to get drunk, per se, but to relax. Kalsarikänni is chilling on the couch all alone (although you can do it with someone else) in comfortable clothes, with a good drink, your favorite snacks within reach, and your favorite tunes playing in the background. Is this meant to be satire of other happiness trends like hygge? Is this a legitimate means of relaxing? Regardless of what the answer is, I’m sure that readers will agree that relaxing in the quiet, in comfortable clothes is a great way to unwind after the end of a long day.


I'm the Reader's Advisory Librarian at WPPL. My interests include old horror films, classic novels, manga and anime, paper-crafting, and plants. If you like my suggestions, you can request personalized recommendations from me on My Librarian page.