When we look back across our lives, it is often the most prominent of events and landmarks that we remember: a kiss, a birthday party, a new job, or a sporting achievement. Yet it is the way we live our day-to-day lives that truly defines who we are and how we feel. Happiness breeds happiness, and it is important to start with the fundamentals.
All around the world, ordinary people and famous achievers alike have developed ways to buoy their daily experience for thousands of years. Whether due to the local climate, religious and cultural tendencies, or just a chance habit that caught the imagination of others in that region, every place has its own techniques to share on how to make regular life just that little bit nicer.
So let’s take a look at things folk from around the world do to give their day that tweak it needs, and how you can adapt these ideas to your daily life.
The Japanese have a relatively new ‘tradition’ to reconnect with their souls. It’s called ‘shinrin-yoku’, or forest-bathing, and was developed in the 1980s in an atmosphere of suffocating cityscapes and omnipresent technology.
To practice shinrinu-yoku:
- Go for a walk in the forest, or a wooded area of your local park
- Take time to think about every sound you hear while you walk
- Appreciate the smells and the texture of the trees
- Reconsider your existence in the context of our ancient natural world.
The Hawaiians have a particular method for dealing with problems in everyday relationships: ‘Ho‘oponopono’. Whether it’s your partner, a friend, or a colleague at work whom you feel has done you wrong, Ho‘oponopono is a means of figuring out things by yourself rather than responding rashly and making things worse.
Allowing resentment to build will ultimately hurt you more than the person to whom it is aimed. Instead:
- Take a deep breath
- Find ten minutes to think things through
- Be grateful for what you have
- Forget your own needs for a moment and consider the other person’s point of view
- Express your own feelings calmly
- Work towards mutual forgiveness.
‘Friluftsliv’, or ‘free air life’, is the Norwegian practice of spending time in the outdoors. Aside from the benefits of fresh air, subjecting yourself to decent amounts of natural daylight can help you to regulate your sleep and stay in touch with the natural rhythms of the world around you.
If you spend most of your time indoors:
- Establish a morning and/or evening ‘outdoors ritual’, such as walking the dog
- Use every coffee break at work as an opportunity to get some fresh air
- If it’s warm enough, eat lunch outdoors; otherwise, take a stroll through the park before you eat indoors
- Look beyond the borders of your town. It’s usually easy to find a national park or natural area to visit on the weekends.
If the Norwegians are all about heading into nature by themselves to ‘re-connect’, Germans are more about reconnecting with each other. ‘Gemütlichkeit’ is that particularly German manner of celebrating togetherness with a frothy beer, a song and a dance.
To get some of this goodness in your own social life:
- Be careful not to take the people you live and work with for granted
- Never miss a chance to raise a toast
- Take time to greet people properly and say meaningful goodbyes, even if you see them every day.
The famous Spanish siesta is an endangered animal. Sadly, even as experts more frequently recommend an afternoon nap to boost workplace productivity, many business managers are concerned that lost time and energy is bad for profit margins.
To take a healthy, effective siesta:
- Nap for no more than thirty minutes
- Sleep in an armchair or sofa rather than a bed
- Make sure you do it regularly and not just as an occasional treat.
We are a generation of multi-taskers – but often, allowing our work and personal lives to overlap means doing a bad job at both and truly enjoying neither. A little daily ritual to demarcate the various areas of your life can help you more accomplished and relaxed. The French do this by taking a small drink between work and the evening meal: the apéritif.
To leave work behind for the day:
- Change into a new set of clean clothes as soon as you get home
- Switch off work notifications on your phone
- Pour yourself a drink of something special – it doesn’t have to be boozy!
Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil
In 1909, the French Society of Hygiene told us: “Yerba mate raises morale, sustains the muscular system, augments strength and allows one to endure privations.” What they did not mention is that drinking this special tea in the company of friends is also good for the soul.
To tap into the South American ritual of mate-tea drinking:
- Always offer a drink to everyone in the room when you’re brewing up
- Try to establish a ‘tea tray’ culture for meetings at work
- Try the real thing – yerba mate can be found in lots of health shops and some regular grocery stores.
‘Keyif’ is all about idle moments of relaxation and contemplation. Remind yourself to take a couple of these each day – the manner of doing so is different from individual to individual.
To identify your moment of mindfulness:
- Slow down – take the long route from A to B, and never be in more than a hurry than you need
- Pay attention to what makes you happy, be it the sound of the breeze in a tree you walk past each day, or a particular seat in a café that makes you feel calm
- Try watching a few ASMR videos for some ideas on how the mundane can become almost transcendental.
Bosnia & Herzegovina
Bosnian people like to break up their morning with a slow coffee, brewed in a special pot and served with sugar or candy. It’s thick and tasty like Turkish coffee, but just as important is the symbolic side: taking time to discuss the day’s events or a business proposition.
- Enjoy tea or coffee as an experience in itself, not something to fuel you while you work
- Use your coffee break to talk to other people, rather than staring at your phone
- Look into buying a Bosnian coffee set online – it will change your life!
‘Ubuntu’ is the philosophy of putting the community ahead of the individual. Individuals become stronger in a healthy, happy community.
- Try asking questions or listening rather than interrupting when you think somebody is wrong
- Consider the benefits for your group as well as yourself when making decisions
- Look at each group task as an opportunity to learn or to teach.
Try just a handful of these happiness techniques from around the world, and you are sure to see your quality of life improve!