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Happiness: Seeking Balance

These past two years, I have been on an earnest quest for happiness which I've learned for me means I need to very intentionally work to maintain proper balance. Initially I tried to prioritize myself, stick to my routines, and really invest in what brings me pleasure. Then I realized that my needs really do need to come before my responsibilities. I can assume every responsibility under the sun, for everyone in my path, and then find no time for meeting or even recognizing my own. It is hard to identify this imbalance until you recognize that you are no longer searching for it.

Once #balance finally falls into place you can feel the peace within yourself. The ebb and flow of each day is joyful and fulfilling. Potentially the productivity of prior days is long gone, but the investment in oneself is well-recognized and appreciated as never before. The greatest way for each of us to change the world is to invest first in ourselves. When we are happier, we are kinder, we treat our bodies better, we attain greater health, we love more deeply, we forgive and offer more #compassion.

People often believe that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that sneaks up on us like good weather, but it really is more the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it. You go after it. You insist upon it. "You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings," writes Elizabeth Gilbert. Once you have achieved a state of happiness, it is a constant and mindful effort to maintain it.

I read an explanation of a medicine man sharing that in his meditations, he can travel up the seven levels above the world. This is unlike the #chakras, which you may be familiar with if you have studied #yoga. These seven levels ultimately ended with heaven at the highest level. He explains everything is beautiful there. Every person, everything to eat, every single thing is beautiful. Heaven is love. However, there are also seven layers below, ending with hell. Interestingly, Hindus don't necessarily believe in a heaven and hell, but more a constant circulation. He explained that both heaven and hell are the same; both are love, but the journey to each is very different. The point is the journey, not the destination. Admittedly, this was a little profound to me.

What Do The Happiest People Have In Common

Finland and Sweden have topped the World's Happiest People report quite consistently, with Norway, Denmark, and Iceland helping to round out the top year after year. Sure these countries have prosperity, although they aren't the richest in the world. The secret is balance. They don't believe you have to be overwhelmingly rich to be happy.

"Having money is not everything; not having it is." Kayne West

Happiness is more about being satisfied with one's path in life. It isn't so much about whether one laughed or smiled today, but more how one feels about the course of one's life. Happiness with our relationships is an important factor in happiness. Do we have someone we can trust and rely on in times of need. Do we have someone with which we can share our hopes and worries?

Finland, along with all nordic countries, offers significant support to new families, including paid parental leave. Together, parents get ten months of paid leave, four months of which occur prior to the birth so mother has support prior to her birth. This time is essential shared between the two, however that works best for the couple and then each can take three years off without losing their employment (and still get a small stipend).

Another aspect of happiness seems to be the freedom to choose for yourself how you want your life to unfold. Unemployment is nearly $2K a year so this can be used to pause your career or redirect it if necessary, and if another path entirely is chosen, your educational expenses plus a monthly stipend is available. Denmark and Finland offer free education and free healthcare. They do collect more taxes than the United States on consumable purchases such as fast food and clothing purchases, but they don't live in fear that their next medical accident or illness will bankrupt them. They have peace knowing their children will have access to education without creating profound debt for themselves and their parents. Day care is even paid for from these taxes which means that women with more than once child, even many children, aren't forced to stay at home because they can't afford to work. Basic needs are supported by the #government so those in the Nordic countries can focus more on how they want to shape their lives.

Interestingly, this study on the world's happiest people argue that the American dream is probably more alive in Denmark. The perception of freedom is a little different as well, in that in the United States we feel we need to be protected from our government or be free from the government, but the sense in Denmark is that the government protects you.

If you've seen Call the Midwife, then you may remember women leaving their babies outside their homes in baby carriers to nap. This was to allow them to get some sun and fresh air, but they trusted the community would keep their babies safe. This still occurs today in Denmark as there is an over-arching sense of safety in the community which is cultivated by the government's extension of protection to its people. Poverty is less. Crime is reduced. There is less feeling of injustice and inequality. There is no super wealth, but there is also no super poverty. Everybody participates.

Aristotle argued that happiness lies between two vices: excess and deficiency. People who pursue only money for happiness, turn out to be less happy. Certainly, having things can bring some peace. I adore my home, my houseplants, my bamboo bedsheets. They do bring me happiness. However, these things have a deeper meaning for me than just having acquired them and possessing them. When one lives in a happy society as well, the standards or the bar is higher so if you are suffering from #depression, that becomes more apparent to you in a community within Denmark than it would within a community in the U.S. where the standard is chronic stress. This ultimately leads to lower rates of #suicide because again, with a higher bar of expectations, emotional suffering is more apparent much earlier in the down spiral.

Finding balance is incredibly difficult in a culture that sort of sets the standard at the more you work, the more value you offer. In Denmark however, the mindset is that those who work outside the 9am-5pm standard work week must somehow be inept and not capable of completing their work within the proper time frame, with literature supporting that productivity remains the same. It certainly makes sense that a rested and peaceful mind can produce more efficient work than one that is overwhelmed, exhausted, and dissatisfied. We do have to work more to get the same quality of life as those in Denmark and Finland. Keep in mind, we have to pay for our health insurance and then any additional charges when we actually use our healthcare system. We also have to pay for our education and childcare expenses. We don't get paid parental leave which means many women are returning to work not fully healed or emotionally ready to separate from their infants, which increases postpartum depression and addiction, as well as long-term child development.

Interestingly, Finland has elected the youngest prime minister, at the age of 34 years. Her cabinet is dominated by women as well, with three of the four under the age of 35 years. Finland has been a pioneer in political gender equality, although this is not to say they are free of gender inequality entirely. They are also one of the more homogenous cultures in the industrialized world.

Maybe it is Their Saunas & Hygge

It's been said that you can't really be Finnish if you don't love your sauna time. There are about as many saunas in the country of Finland as about half the population. Traditionally, children are taught that they can't fight in the sauna because there is apparently a "sauna elf" that will be upset by this, so as they grow older it is sort of ingrained in them to avoid arguing in the sauna. For this reason, marital discussion remain calm in the #sauna, and political leaders reach important compromises in the sauna as they are unable to become emotionally heated.

It may also be their hygge, or their ability to create a nice atmosphere, that causes them to claim such great happiness. I love this so much. The expectation within the culture to dedicate a corner of self-expression, a sanctuary, a place that supports each individual is one of the best methods of self-love I am aware. This hygge then seeps into the community with cozy drinks and warm lighting available throughout their neighborhood. Danes love candles for example. Americans seem to create more stimulating atmospheres although we acknowledge these are over-stimulating. It's as if we are all fighting for the greatest attention, to make the greatest mark, to earn the biggest buck at the cost of our own happiness.

Having a strong purpose in life, feeling satisfied with life overall, and feeling pleasure is a great component of both happiness and hygge. This is such a foundational component of their mindset that Nordic countries provide all of their citizens paid annual vacations. In Finland for example, after working one year with your employer, you earn four weeks of paid vacation in the summer and one in the winter. Fins typically spend their summers in summer cottages, called mokkis. These typically have lakes or are near the sea, although don't typically have electricity. Families spend time together and sort of catch up on life in the summer, so they can then re-invest in their work once they return. The nordic advice for a poor mood, is to do something active, do it with friends, and do something meaningful. I am moving; whose coming with me? Let's do something meaningful.

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