The 2017 World Happiness Report reported Norway has the happiest people, followed closely by Denmark, formerly the happiest.
A number of factors contribute to the making of a happy nation. Life evaluations are studied in the World Happiness Report, and the focus is on a number of different measures, including: life expectancy, gross domestic product per capita, absence of corruption in government and business, social support, freedom to make life choices, and levels of generosity.
The most important factor is social support, the greatest determinant of health and survival. Our interconnectedness is highlighted in social support roles and volunteering, and our levels of giving. When these are strong and vital in a country’s culture, this contributes to general overall happiness.
Danish culture focuses very strongly on its social bonds and ties, while ironically having the second highest level of antidepressant use in Europe. This may be that the climate is one in the upper northern hemisphere and correlates with lower levels of light, and because Danish culture is described as supportive and encouraging, perhaps it is more socially acceptable to take antidepressants.
Hygge is a concept that is unique to Scandinavia, and Denmark in particular. It means being cozy and comfortable. It is an entire lifestyle and mindset, and researchers who have studied it say it encompasses not only a way of setting forth the home environment, and being hospitable to guests, neighbors and peers, but it permeates throughought all of Danish society.
Perhaps Danes have recognized that suffering is a normal experience, and to receive support and have it acknowledged rather than denied is to come close to realizing total healing after a difficult event.
I recently embarked on a desire to create a sacred space in my home — doing daily rituals to promote mental health and wellbeing — but after a recent death in the family I came to the realization that suffering is inevitable. Positive thinking denies that people get hurt, and Western society’s trap is the embracing of happiness over everything, to the point that depression, or our darkness, is avoided and is a taboo subject.
Buddhism teaches in the First Noble Truth that all of life is suffering, pain and misery, and says in the Second Noble Truth that all suffering is caused from desire and our craving for something. “Suffering in his teaching does not necessarily mean grave physical pain, but rather the mental suffering we undergo when our tendency to hold onto pleasure encounters the fleeting nature of life, and our experiences become unsatisfying and ungovernable,” Sharon Salzberg writes in her interpretation of Buddhism’s Second Noble Truth.
Buddhism does not eradicate negative thinking, but pushes people towards an awareness of the reality of suffering, and how to cope with the reality of the darker side of life. Can positive thinking actually sabotage your happiness, realizing that not everything is possible?
Is it better to dispense with positive thinking altogether, which in itself is a form of denial, and can lead to a suppression of reality? Pain, injury, illness, suffering and death are inevitable, and failures happen. Perhaps the best way to cope with an understanding of the negative in life is to not deny it, not to try to avoid it — like the Buddhists who follow the Eight Fold Path to happiness, and the Danes who provide a supportive, comforting and socially supportive culture — and bring to mind reality.
Yes, suffering happens, and grief and pain are realities. However, we can create in our lives a microcosm of sacred space, and rituals where we can promote healing, such as meditation, gentle walks, and hygge in our homes and communities. From the microcosm of the home, to the macrocosm of our communities and nations, embracing social supports, accepting the negative in our lives, and viewing acceptance of these things as inevitable can aid in true healing.
Positive thinking suppresses and denies our emotional states. Accepting the negative, the dark and the ugly in our world, makes us more appreciative of the light. And when we focus on the positive, and are open to receiving that social support, and creating space in our lives for the tenets of the Eight Fold Path, kindness and hygge, we come to a more balanced and smoother state of equilibrium — and then real healing is inevitable.