Most of us would agree that happiness is a state of mind, one that requires more than a little maintenance. Perfect for giving your attitude a tune-up, the books below are all about achieving—and sustaining—a sunny mindset. Get ready to focus, reflect and feel happy, starting today.
In a 2016 United Nations report, Denmark was named the happiest place in the world, a title the country has earned in previous years. The sod, it seems, really is greener in Scandinavia. What’s the key to Danish contentment? Copenhagener Meik Wiking, a researcher for the World Database of Happiness, believes it’s hygge (pronounced hue-gah), the feeling of snug domesticity, companionship and security that’s central to the country’s culture.
For those of us who live in less idyllic locations—the U.S. ranked 13th on the list of happy nations—Wiking has written The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. In brief, breezy chapters, Wiking outlines ways we can weave hygge into the fabric of our daily lives, offering ideas on everything from decorating (candles are a hygge must-have) to dining (try the recipe for robust Skipper Stew). But hygge, Wiking points out, is much more than an aesthetic. It’s a state of mind that fosters optimism and stresses pleasure over the pressure to be perfect. The hygge way means it’s OK to disconnect from work and assemble with friends, to indulge in—yes—a Danish or two (statistics show that Denmark outeats the rest of Europe when it comes to sugary treats). As life philosophies go, this one sounds pretty sweet.
Author Malene Rydahl presents a different take on what makes Denmark tick in Happy as a Dane: 10 Secrets of the Happiest People in the World, arguing that her homeland is flourishing thanks to a solid social framework and a value structure that emphasizes personal contentment instead of status. Her 10-secrets list features qualities that define Danish society—traits such as trust, a supportive educational system, a sense of unlimited opportunity and an appreciation for simple pleasures.
When applied to our personal lives, Rydahl says, these big-picture elements can generate the same sense of positivity that makes Denmark the happiest place on the map. Rydahl, who is Copenhagen’s goodwill ambassador, suggests simple shifts in perspective. By focusing on community, calibrating the career-life equation and developing independence and self-worth, we can create a strong foundation for fulfillment. From start to finish, Rydahl lays out a persuasive case for making 2017 the year of living Danishly.
HOW-TOS FOR HAPPINESS
For more than a decade, sought-after speaker Halley Bock has worked with companies across the country as an advisor on workplace relationships. She’s the founder of Life, Incorporated, an organization that promotes connection, compassion and good old-fashioned joy as prime factors in personal satisfaction. Bock shares her unique approach to self-growth in Life, Incorporated: A Practical Guide to Wholehearted Living. The key word here is practical, as Bock provides concrete techniques that can help readers find new ways to flourish.
Bock’s position on self-fulfillment is holistic. She urges us to inventory our lives—to take stock of home environment, physical health, career and downtime and, through writing prompts that tap into personal inspiration, envision more rewarding versions of each. Building self-esteem, finding a sense of purpose and maintaining authentic connections with others are among her areas of emphasis. “The more we are able to live life on our own terms,” Bock observes, “the more we are able to experience wholehearted success and fulfillment.” If you’re looking for a hands-on plan for cultivating happiness, Bock’s book is for you.
So many of us, it seems, are creatures of habit, ruled by schedules and routines. In the midst of all the busyness, it’s easy to stagnate—and stress (two verbs you should banish from your vocabulary in 2017!). Are we humans really capable of change? According to Zen master Joseph Emet, the answer to that question is a resounding yes, and in Finding the Blue Sky: A Mindful Approach to Choosing Happiness Here and Now, he shows readers how. Through a series of daily practices that includes planned meditation, Emet offers a blueprint for forming a more mindful mode of living and stopping the cycles of negative thinking that so often undermine happiness.
Drawing on his Buddhist background, Emet provides themes for meditation and soul-searching questions, all aimed at helping the reader develop a more affirmative outlook. He also delves into issues that can complicate daily life, including mood management and relationships. Establishing positive habits and patterns of thinking is central to contentment, Emet notes, but practice makes perfect—we have to act with intention if we want the changes to be permanent. He makes it all seem achievable in this stirring, heartfelt book.
PATH TO A HAPPIER YOU
Full of smart suggestions for finding fulfillment, Rachel Kelly’s Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness is sure to put a spring in your stride. In this mood-brightening guide, Kelly, a bestselling British author and mental health advocate who has struggled with depression, reveals the techniques she relies upon for leading a bountiful life.
In journal entries attuned to the seasons, Kelly supplies 52 ideas—one for each week of the year—for creating a more satisfying lifestyle. Try building into your schedule “pockets of peace”—times to power down, pause and reflect—in order to become more mindful of the present moment. Start practicing gratitude by pinpointing positive incidents and recording them in a notebook. Tiny tweaks like these, Kelly says, can make a big difference in our attitudes and interactions.
This article was originally published in the January 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.