The Danish key to happiness
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Denmark is consistently at or near the top of the world's happiness rankings (check out this entertaining video that explains why Denmark and Finland are so happy) and the pandemic has done little to dampen its copious contentment. You may be familiar with the Danish word hygge, the art of creating a cozy atmosphere with things such as candlelight, a good book, and a warm beverage. Samfundssind, is another Danish word combining samfund (society) and sind (mind) that embodies the community spirit of collective responsibility in Denmark's response to Covid-19. “We need samfundssind,” said Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as she encouraged everyone to think of the pandemic as a shared experience in which it is important to think, not only of your own needs, but of yourself as part of a bigger cause. It's not just during times of crisis that we need the broader perspective of samfundssind: research shows that a sense of purpose connected to something bigger than yourself is the key to living a contented life. In Denmark, they talk about the ABCs of mental health, the three things you should do if you want to boost your mood:
Do something active
Do something with other people
Do something meaningful
The focus of this week's 5-Minute Recharge, inspired by the community spirit of the Danes, is the power of connecting to a sense of meaning. ONE PURPOSEFUL QUOTE “I'm often asked to give advice to children and I tell them, 'You don't have to wait to be an adult to be a leader.' Young people are leading, but the world has too many problems for one generation to solve. So today my advice is for our elders: it is not too late for you to change.” – Malala Yousafzai, who recently graduated from Oxford University, encourages us to find a problem and work to solve it
– Caesar McCool, the “No drama llama” and passionate llamactivist, is bringing a soothing sense of calm to protests, charity events, and retirement homes THREE MEANINGFUL IDEAS #1 LUPUS IN FABULA Italians have an expression for when life hits you with the unexpected: lupus in fabula, the wolf in the fairy tale. Bruce Feiler has spent the last five years talking to hundreds of people who have faced the wolves of significant life transitions that he calls “lifequakes.” Based on his research, Feiler found that lifequakes such as the coronavirus create meaning vacuums; therefore the fundamental strategy to cope with a transition is to make meaning. According to Feiler, transitions involve passing through three phases (not necessarily in order): one, the long goodbye, when you say farewell and mourn the old you–you may use ritual to tame the emotions of fear, sadness or shame that usually accompany the long goodbye; two, the messy middle, in which you shed old habits and create new ones–often this phase involves a rush of creativity; and three, the new beginning, in which you unveil your new self. The greatest lesson of all, according to Feiler, is that you control the stories you tell yourself about your transitions, and the essential skill in navigating any transition is to be able to rethink, revise, and update your life story. “We can't keep the wolves from interrupting our fairy tales and that's okay. Because if you banish the wolf, you banish the hero.” – Bruce Feiler, author Life is in the Transitions #2 THE RESILIENCE FORMULA According to Stanford professor and author of How We Work, Leah Weiss, resilience is a three-part formula of purpose + compassionate connection + self-efficacy. Research from UCLA suggests that having a purpose in life can make our gene expression healthier. Weiss defines purpose as a far-reaching, steady goal, something personally meaningful and self-transcending. To uncover your purpose, ask questions such as: Looking back at your life, what experiences made you feel most alive? What environment makes you feel most sane? What do you want to be remembered for? When your behavior is aligned with your purpose and your values, you're less likely to burn out. But such alignment requires awareness. Weiss encourages you to do what she calls a calendar audit–examine how you spent your time last week and reflect on how that maps onto what matters most to you. “When you are aware of what you're experiencing while you're going through life, you are able to see quickly when you're out of alignment with your values.” – Leah Weiss from the Ten Percent Happier Podcast episode “The Antidote to Burnout” #3 FINDING YOUR MARSHMALLOW Arthur Brooks, the host of one of The 5-Minute Recharge's favorite wellness podcasts, The Art of Happiness, has a question for you: what is your marshmallow? Brooks is referring to the famous marshmallow test from the 1970s in which children were given a marshmallow, cookie, chocolate–whatever treat they liked most–and were told they could have two treats if they could wait for the return of the researcher who would disappear for as long as 20 minutes, an eternity for a child trying to resist temptation. (You can watch some of the hilarious antics of the children in the marshmallow test here.) About two-thirds of the children couldn't wait, but one-third were able to resist the marshmallow temptation, and these children went on to have better lives with better relationships, did better in school, and had better jobs than those who chose to gobble the single marshmallow. Could you resist temptation? Of course you could or you wouldn't be reading this newsletter, but have you found your marshmallow? Do you know what work you were meant to do? Brooks has four lessons for finding your marshmallow: 1. Make work your reward; 2. Look for something that is deeply interesting to you rather than simply fun; 3. Don't worry about progressing in a straight line and 4. Make sure your passion is harmonious, not obsessive. “There are so many people who don't know what they want. And I think that, in this world, that's the only thing you need to know–exactly what you want. Doing what you were born to do...that's the way to be happy.” – Artist Agnes Martin *********************************** THE FAST FIVE 1. What I Learned from the Worst Novelist in the English Language - The New Republic (A beautiful story about a life of purpose.) 2. Five-Minute Coronavirus Stress Resets - The New York Times (One of these suggestions is a bit odd.) 3. I'm Traveling Even Though I'm Stuck at Home - Rick Steves, The Atlantic (Rick Steves encourages us to look at our surroundings with the fresh eyes of a tourist.) 4. Three Simple Ways to Deactivate Your Bad Genes - BBC Reel (Time: 5 minutes) (Most genes have a dimmer switch that you can manipulate with your lifestyle choices.) 5. Exercise, eat right, get good sleep: The top 3 ways to prevent so many diseases - CNN (People who exercise 150 minutes per week have a 33% lower risk of all-cause mortality–your weekly reminder that exercise is a miracle drug.) *********************************** YOUR 5-MINUTE RECHARGE CHALLENGE GO WRITE A POEM Bet you thought this week's 5-Minute Recharge Challenge would be to take five minutes to find your purpose, write it on a sticky note, and slap it on your fridge. You can do that if you like, but we were thinking along the lines of something more poetic. As we mentioned in Idea #1, the messy middle of transitions often leads to an outpouring of creativity. If you've noticed a recent uptick in your creativity, you're not alone: since the beginning of the pandemic, The Journal of the American Medical Association has been inundated with poetry submissions from doctors and patients. Here's one about a CT scanner: A colleague once called CT scanners truth machines, as if passing people through them could coax secrets out of the body Your 5-Minute Recharge challenge is to reflect on your recent experience and write whatever comes to mind in the form of a poem. That's it. Now go write a poem. “Poetry has that ability to grab us and to speak in the most urgent terms. It's a very physical language. It calls us to action.” – Rafael Campo, poetry editor, The Journal of the American Medical Association The final word goes to some purposeful Canadian humor...
Many thanks go to cousin Sheila who shared the above image and has found purpose during the pandemic in making people laugh, and 5-Minute Recharge subscriber Patrick who, based on last week's bee-themed newsletter, suggested the memoir The Honey Bus. Please send your comments, suggestions, jokes, and reading recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org.