Govt policies, soft lighting can raise happiness levels: Expert
Published on: Saturday, November 09, 2019
By: James Sarda
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SHARJAH: Governments should put wellbeing and happiness at the heart of what they are trying to achieve as a nation, according to the head of the Denmark-based Happiness Research institute, Meik Wiking (pic).

“Yes, money matters. But quality of life also matters. That should be the goal of governments and we are seeing governments moving towards that,” he said in a discussion on “Happiness and Life” at the ongoing Sharjah International Book Fair.

Meik, who is a Global Happiness and Wellbeing Policy Report committee member and whose books have become bestsellers with millions sold in 35 languages, said governments like the United Arab Emirates have started creating Wellbeing portfolios while others have included wellbeing as part of their budget considerations.

“Secondly, we need to use science, data to understand when creating policy how it is going to impact and what are the most cost-effective ways to raise the quality of life,” he said.

He said while it is true that people in richer countries are on the average happier, there are also differences within these countries and how good they are at converting wealth into wellbeing.

He cited his own country that had been replaced by Finland lately and that there are countries that are richer than the Nordic countries but are further down the list.

He said what the Nordic countries have been quite good at is reducing the causes for unhappiness.

They do this by investing in hospitals, education, infrastructure and urban design that allows people to enjoy life regardless of whether they are rich or poor.

“One of the great things about Copenhagen is that even if I lose my job tomorrow, with my income and savings I can still enjoy a relatively high quality of life.”

This is partly due to taxes in the Scandinavian countries being quite high. There is a collective responsibility that everybody pitches in. 

“Taxes are seen as a collective investment in the quality of life, that we are in this together,” said Meik.

“We pay up to 50pc of our income in taxes. We are happy to pay that and of course part of that means there is also good governance.

“That there is very low level of corruption...that the money you pay is fed back to the people in terms of infrastructure, health, education, etc,” he said.

He said in many countries, even in the US, parents are worried whether they can send their kids to college and save up for education. 

In Denmark, university is free and students even get a government stipend of $1,000 to attend school and that also means less financial stress on parents.

There are also family-friendly policies like shorter working week.

He said studies show a shared common dream across the globe is bringing people together over food, growing your own vegetables, having a place to relax and read books.

“We overestimate how different we are when it comes to happiness. The more conversations I have with people around the world, the more similar we are because we are, first and foremost, humans.”

Hence, there are more similarities than differences when it comes to the perception of what the good life is about.

“We become happier if we have a sense of purpose and meaning in life, when we have somebody we can rely on in times of need.

“There are also some common denominators. If you live in a place where there is peace and security, you tend to be happier.

“We can see healthy life expectancy matters for happiness worldwide like living in a country with high level of social support with generosity.

“High levels of happiness is also linked to trust in government, in political instruments and trust in your neighbours.

Part of the Happiness Institute’s work involved learning from countries like Bhutan that have a Gross National Happiness instead of Gross National Product, where every political decision is based on whether it is going to improve the lives of its citizens.

In that Himalayan country, each schooling day starts with a mind exercise to calm the students which resulted in better wellbeing and grades.

Notwithstanding governmental obligations, he said individuals also can induce happiness in their own settings.

Again taking the Danish example, he said his country is the biggest user of candles in Europe followed by Austria.

He said Danes are obsessed about lamps in general and candles in particular. They prefer softer and warmer lights that lower the temperature rather than harsh strong lighting. 

“Candles give off a nice soft warm light and also makes people look nice.”

He said after people read about this in his book, the feedback he received from around the world was that family dinners now lasted 20 minutes longer on average.

He encourages people to also tuck into comfortable clothes at home like oversize boxer pants which they would not want to be seen wearing outside.

And identify places in their homes where they can spend quiet moments like reading a book.

Meik also suggests holding special occasions in a new place or trying out new things like unique dishes if they wish to retrieve the good memories to reflect on later because “our memories work via association”.

When we see, hear or smell something we store them and are also something we can use to retrieve happy memories, he said.

“You are instantly transported back to that time. Or you escort to built-in triggers like a woman who bought a perfume for her wedding and wore it once a year.”

As for social media, he said it could either undermine the pursuit of happiness by making us pay too much attention to our phones. Or aid it by enabling the storing of thousands of happy memories in them.

He said good moments are also a way of training your memory which works a bit like the muscles. The more you talk about something the more you are likely to take that memory and store it.

He said people are prone to recalling events in their lives until the 30s because that is when they experienced many “firsts” like their first date, etc. But it is not the case after you are 40 as by then you have already lived half your life expectancy.


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