As a society we are obsessed with wellbeing and happiness. Everyone has their own definition of wellbeing and their own method of striving towards it. But what if the key to happiness is in something more substantial and encompassing, say, culture?

Firstly, what is happiness? This is obviously one of the most open-ended questions known to man, but according to the World Happiness Report, facilitated by the UN, overall happiness can be decided by six factors: trust, income, healthy life expectancy, generosity, social support, and freedom. With these factors in mind, the 2019 report labelled Finland as the happiest country in the world. Denmark, Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are all regularly high placing, with the majority of the top spots being dominated by Europe, specifically Scandinavian nations. So, what is Scandinavia getting right?

The World Happiness Report of 2019 also measured immigrant happiness for the first time, which was also topped by Finland, so it is evident that one of the keys to their happiness derives from a sense of security that is offered by civic bodies. Security is the foundation for life in a lot of senses, because it allows one to focus on living their life to the maximum without the fear of their situation being compromised due to political or governmental circumstances. Being secure in one’s own life and country allows for enjoyment to be had elsewhere without worry, in say, cultural activities. Moreover, not having to worry about one’s security promotes relaxation, a contributing factor to the improvement of mental health, allowing for happiness to be uncontested.

If we look at the theoretical basis of how cultures inspire happiness, it is identifiable that art and culture spark human prosperity and enrichment. Further, they are a method of stress relief, which in turn enhances psychological wellbeing with physical and mental benefits. Cinema, museums, art, music, sport, literature and more, can therefore be said to enhance wellbeing. In a sense, culture is a distraction. Problems can be evaded temporarily through the enjoyment of such things as listed above, particularly when it comes to stress and its relief. Stress is a primary cause of adverse medical conditions and effects, so preventing this is key. Escaping in a good book or film, or taking a trip to a museum, can release tension and provide much needed relief, which when enjoyed regularly, makes the benefits much more long-lasting. 

Relating this back to the example of Finland, the so-called ‘happiest country’, one cultural tradition that could give reason for this claim is the popularity of saunas. Very popular in Finland, the sauna is a widespread relaxation method, with both mental and physical paybacks. Usually in Finland, this practice involves sitting in the sauna until the heat begins to feel uncomfortable, and then cooling down by either jumping in a nearby lake, or even the snow in winter months or northern regions. As extreme as it may sound, the physical benefits, are (apparently) worth the freezing temperatures, and the obvious mental gains from such relaxation are unparalleled.

I mentioned before that there is a tendency for Scandinavian nations to top happiness lists, and a regular high-placer is Denmark, the home of Hygge. Pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, Hygge is a Danish lifestyle that emphasises relaxation and comfort, and you have probably tapped into it without even realising. Hygge often encompasses physical comforts that promote mental comfort, so your favourite pair of woolly socks, your favourite blanket, and your latest scented candle are all ways in which you have practiced Hygge unknowingly. Snuggling up with a book, a blanket, and a candle is a cultural staple of Denmark. These things make me very happy and comfortable in my daily life, and are the items and practices that I look forward to following a long and exhausting day, and I am sure that these things sound appealing to you also.

Culture is not the sole key to wellbeing, but it cannot be denied that it is a contributing factor to wellbeing in many ways. Whether it is a spa experience in the snow, a cosy evening with a book, or a culturally enriching trip to the museum, the mental benefits of engaging with culture inspire relaxation and personal development, which are shown to improve one’s psychological state, with knockon benefits for our physical health too. So, next time you find yourself bored in a museum, tough it out, because it is very good for you.   


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