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What Happiness Means Around the World

 Happiness and joy can mean different things in different places. Indeed, it can mean different things to different people. We all derive joy from different things, but you might be surprised at just how differently other cultures conceptualize this most evasive of ideals.

Each philosophy has its own merits in helping those who follow it in attaining a feeling of contentment and joy. Here are some of the most interesting ones:
1. Wu-Wei (Chinese Taoism)
Happiness: Wu WeiSource: Tommy Wong
A Chinese parable tells of a fictional meeting between the Indian Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha), Confucius and Laozi, the three founders of the leading Chinese schools of thought. In this story, they find a pot of unidentified liquid, dip their fingers in and put them to their mouths. It’s vinegar. Confucius tastes it and his face sours. The Buddha tastes it and it tastes bitter to him, just like life itself. Laozi tastes it, smiles, and says: “ah, this is vinegar!”
Wu-Wei means “no effort” and is one of the main tenets of Taoism. In the philosophy of Wu-Wei, people are encouraged not to strive against the world or attempt to change it, but rather to take joy in the way things are, and to do things with no attachment to success or failure.
2. Coorie (Scotland)
Happiness: Coorie
Derived from Scots, the literal meaning of “coorie” is to snuggle, and as a lifestyle, it is the celebration of the cold winter. The way one “observes” Coorie is by making oneself as cozy as possible while at home, and eating hearty, warm food that is best-suited for a cold day. Of course, to fully indulge in this joy, one must have a full appreciation of the cold. This is why “practitioners” of Coorie are encouraged to take hikes and revel in the beautiful wintry outdoors.
3. Mudita (Buddhism)
Happiness: Mudita
In the ancient Sanskrit language of India, Mudita means joy, but in Buddhism, it is refined even further to mean a kind of gladness that is unadulterated by personal condition and pride; being joyful at the happiness of others without attributing it to yourself or coveting it. This may seem easy, but this kind of empathetic joy is considered the hardest virtue to cultivate within Buddhist circles.
4. Philotimo (Greece)
Happiness: Philotimo
The Greek Philotimo is the spirit of a nation, a word that is hard to translate (it literally means “love of honor”, but that doesn’t adequately explain it), but all native Greek speakers seem to intuitively understand. This nigh-undecipherable virtue, rather than being one thing, encapsulates an entire way of life that includes kindness to strangers, gratitude, dignity, self-sacrifice, hospitality and optimism.
5. Shinrin-Yoku (Japan)
Happiness: Shinrin-Yoku
This curious and relatively young tradition (dated to the early 80’s) means in Japanese “forest-bathing”, but rather than finding a stream in the forest and jumping into it, it actually means to immerse oneself in the forest. Practically speaking, one accomplishes this by going into a forest and trying to experience it with all senses: touch the barks of trees and leaves (avoid poisonous ones, obviously), listen to the liveliness of the woods, breathe this sense of life in and wander around.
6. Pantsdrunk/Kalsarikänni (Finland)
Happiness: Pantsdrunk
If Kalsarikänni sounds similar to Coorie, that’s because both ultimately derive from the Danish “Hygge”, a Scandinavian philosophy of coziness. But the Finnish Kalsarikänni takes comfort a step further (or backwards, depending on who you ask): while other trends put an emphasis on making your house as cozy as possible, getting pantsdrunk requires that you be as comfortable as possible in your home. Pantsdrunk literally means getting out of your clothes, loading up on snacks and watching TV while drinking an alcoholic beverage, with no intention of leaving your home afterwards. It’s so simple, it’s genius. Heck, you might be practicing this Finnish ritual without even realizing it!
7. Ikigai (Okinawa, Japan)
Happiness: Ikigai
The Japanese island of Okinawa is notable for many reasons, one of which is the high proportion of long-lived elderly people. While diet may play a part in this, a more important factor may be that Okinawans have Ikigai- a raison d’etre, or a reason to get up in the morning. According to this philosophy, if you are engaged in things you’re good at, that you love doing, that fill you with a sense of purpose and you can get paid for, there is absolutely no reason why you should ever want to retire, so long as your body allows you to do your work.
8. Lykke (Denmark)
Happiness: Lykke
Comfort isn’t the only recipe to happiness Denmark has to offer. Unlike Hygge which promotes coziness (see Coorie and Kalsarikänni for the Scottish and Finnish derivatives), Lykke (“happiness”) take a far more proactive approach to happiness, such as being more physically active in your daily routine by commuting by bike (for example), and striving for a stronger connection to one’s own family and neighbors, fostering a sense of communality and kinship by lending help, sharing resources and developing an amiable relationship.
9. Simcha (Hasidic Judaism)
Happiness: SimchaSource: Mitaskim
Like other lifestyles and philosophies listed here, the meaning of Simcha in Hebrew is simply “happiness”, but within the context of Hasidic Judaism, it means so much more. According to some of the most influential Hasidic rabbis, being happy is not only desirable, it is a mitzvah- a commandment and a privilege. As such, it is viewed as a matter of a choice, and one that has a deeply spiritual meaning. In fact, the Baal Shem Tov, founder of Hasidism, viewed happiness in and of itself as a form of worship. And consequently, any undertaking that brings you joy is in service of God.
Any of these philosophies might work for you, but more importantly- each might hold a secret, which, when combined with the rest, will lead to creating your own unique recipe for happiness, tailored specifically for you.
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