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What Drives Happiness? (How to ‘Hygge’ ep. 148)

Meik Wiking

Meik Wiking of The Happiness Research Institute joins John O’Leary on the Live Inspired Podcast to share fascinating insights and practical steps to live a happier, more inspired life today.

What drives happiness? Actually, what is happiness?

It sounds so vague, like “puppy dogs and rainbows,” doesn’t it? Well, today, we’re going to define it, get our hands wrapped around how you measure it + see what the key drivers for happiness really are.

Our guest Meik Wiking is the founder + CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, is improving the quality of life across the globe and has consulted with the Danish government and the city of Goyang in South Korea among others to increase key drivers of happiness in their countries.

When Meik realized his native Denmark is routinely ranked the highest in the United Nations Happiness Report, it sent him on a mission to unlock what drives (and what prohibits) human happiness.

Meik’s insights are fascinating and will give you practical steps to live a happier, more inspired life today.

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  • The Happiness Research Institute is taking a scientific approach to answer these questions:
    1. How do you measure happiness?
    2. Why are some people happier than others?
    3. How can we improve the quality of life?
  • Happiness often feels vague and soft. The institute breaks happiness down into two components: Overall life satisfaction + immediate satisfaction.
  • Capture happiness: By following large groups of people over time, they see how life events impact emotions and happiness.
  • The Happiness Research Institute has served cities, governments + organizations globally, impacting their policies + infrastructures, allowing their citizens to flourish.
  •  Meik refers to Denmark as the “least unhappy country”:
    • Since “genetics” plays a small role in someone’s level of happiness,  the main explanation is the Nordic way of life.
    • Policies + infrastructure are in place in Scandinavian countries to reduce causes of unhappiness: unemployment, lack of access to healthcare, paid university-level education.
  • Meik’s book The Little Book Hygge details the Danish national culture of art of creating a nice atmosphere:
  • Hygge is the idea of feeling relaxed, at peace, a sense of togetherness and enjoying simple pleasures. It’s a key success parameter when socializing in Denmark.
    • Light a candle: Meik shares a fascinating story of a Canadian family making the simple environmental change of eating dinner in candlelight that led to a longer, more enjoyable experience for the entire family.
  • Happiness-suicide paradox: It’s more difficult to be unhappy in happy country.
    • Why? Our satisfaction is impacted by how we see others (and social comparison).
    • Increasing wealth does not correlate with increased happiness because we increase our expectations, creating a new benchmark for happiness.
  • The Little Book of Lykke is Meik’s global treasure hunt for happiness, covering 6 topics: togetherness, money, health, freedom, trust, and kindness. Hear more about each of these in our Live Inspired IN STUDIO membership community*.

If you enjoyed hearing practical tips to be happier in your work + life, listen to Gretchen Rubin, New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Project & The Four Tendencies on ep. 64 and Liz Fosslien, co-author + illustrator of the just-released book No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work on ep. 122 of the Live Inspired Podcast.

* Hear more on Meik’s global treasure hunt for happiness by joining IN STUDIO, my membership community where like-minded friends join me via live webcast to live inspired together. I’ll share his practical tips + proven real-life examples from The Little Book of Lykke. Registration is open now for less than 48 hours. Register today!



1. What is the best book you’ve ever read? Factualness by Hans Rosling.

2. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today? Optimism.

3. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be? My photo albums.

4. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be? My mom. died at 49 nice things to say to her.

5. What is the best advice you’ve ever received? John Helliwell,  Editor of World Happiness Report in reference to the work we do: Let the data shape the signs but let the story spread the signs.

6. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self? It’s all going to be fine.

7. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read? Just happy. 


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