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Michaela Pointon / © Culture Trip
Michaela Pointon / © Culture Trip
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10 Ways Of Life Around the World That Will Make You Happier

Picture of Monique La Terra
Updated: 11 October 2017
As part of World Mental Health Day, we asked our international team of writers to share their countries’ alternative approaches to life. From the Hawaiian moral practice of ho’oponopono, to the Japanese idea of ikigai, there are many lessons to be learned from these 10 traditional notions of the good life.

1. Ikigai

Origin: Japan

Lucy Dayman, Culture Trip Japan Writer

What is it?

Ikigai is essentially a person’s reason for living. In Japanese culture, it’s believed that every single person has one, however, finding it may take some soul searching. The word can be broken up into two elements iki, meaning being alive or life, and kai, meaning fruit, worth or purpose (k and g sounds are often interchangeable in Japanese).

For some, ikigai may be raising a family or enjoying hobbies – but for many, it’s their work. This love of having a purpose is why Japanese people work so much, and if you find purpose and joy in your work, you’re well on your way to finding yours.

What are the benefits?

In Japanese culture, the ideology of ikigai is what drives people to be so dedicated to their work. Unemployment in Japan is incredibly low. This is because as a nation, the mentality is that it’s better to work any sort of job rather than not work at all. There’s less of a stigma around what others would consider ‘lowly’ or ‘menial’ jobs. Every job commands a level of respect and works as part of the greater good.

How can I do it too?

In terms of everyday life, the theory of ikigai is a simple one. If you find purpose in what you do, (work or otherwise) you feel valued and you’ll work better; therefore finding your purpose. Many Japanese people also find it in the communal activities that come with membership of clubs and community organisations.

Michaela Pointon /
Michaela Pointon / | © Culture Trip

2. Hygge

Origin: Denmark

Aliki Seferou, Culture Trip Denmark Writer

What is it?

Hygge is as tricky to define as it is to pronounce (hue-guh). It’s an ambiance or quality, something subtle but very much perceptible, and underpins all of Danish life. The nation’s famously sunny disposition survives the most sun-less time of the year (17 hours of darkness per day in the winter), thanks to its adeptness at cultivating hygge, often summed up as a feeling of cosiness and comfortable ease.

What are the benefits?

Hygge helps you appreciate the things that matter most in life. A cosy dinner while catching up with your friends (without checking your mobile every second), or relaxing on the couch with your favourite book is something that people with today’s busy schedules forget to do – and that’s why hygge should become a habit.

How can I do it too?

It’s cold and dark for most of the year in Denmark, and people have to find ways to prevent the onset of depression. Spending an evening at home with a nice meal and your closest friends, for example, is a way to deal with all the darkness. You can also incorporate hygge into your own home, and create the cozy atmosphere the Danes made famous.

3. Guyub

Origin: Indonesia

Edira Putri, Culture Trip Indonesia Writer

What is it?

The Javanese know guyub as a way to relate to one another in a community. It signifies a strong sense of belonging, mutual compassion, and sincere support for one another. In a village, everyone is not only acquainted, but they would selflessly aid others in times of need. Everyone takes joy in the happiness and good fortune of others – amounting to lots of happiness to share. No one is ever left alone, and happiness comes from knowing that one’s existence matters to other people, both from the giving and receiving end.

What are the benefits?

You’d be surprised at how great it feels to be of help, to know that you’ve contributed some good in the lives of others and in society. And who knows – maybe someday you’ll need someone, and they’ll be there for you too.

How can I do it too?

Guyub manifests itself in many aspects of life, from helping a neighbour during a financial crisis, to engaging in a friendly discussion to solve a problem in the community – even if the issue doesn’t concern you directly.

Guyub | Michaela Pointon / © Culture Trip

4. Ho’oponopono

Origin: Hawaii

Wailana Kalama, Culture Trip Hawaii Writer

What is it?

Ho’oponopono is the moral practice of engaging in corrective action. Basically, it means discussing problems and finding solutions using spiritually mindful behaviour, with the goal of restoring injured relationships. The word, according to the Hawaiian dictionary by Pukui and Elbert, means 1) to put things right, 2) to tidy up, and 3) mental cleansing.

It’s expected that everyone in a social group engaging in ho’oponopono – friends, family or even distant relatives – works towards coming back together and getting on the right path.

A simpler form of ho’oponopono is the family discussion – more commonly referred to as pule ’ohana. The family gathers together to review the day, to say sorry and to express thanks. Issues are resolved in a respectful, truthful and spiritual manner.

What are the benefits?

Pule ’ohana doesn’t always require a problem; it can simply be a daily ritual to ensure the family unit runs smoothly. Practising it with my own family has taught me to communicate my feelings in a safe space. It has also taught me to be clear-minded, non-judgmental and open-hearted about my feelings and those of others.

How can I do it too?

Parents can hold family discussions with their kids from a young age, teaching them that everyone has valid feelings. Families who hold pule ’ohana tend to be close, and generally like to do things together, because trust and understanding have been developed. It’s also a way to set boundaries for young people, demonstrate guidelines for acceptable conduct, and teach non-violent ways to resolve problems.

5. Fare la bella figura

Origin: Italy

Emma Law, Culture Trip Italy Writer

What is it?

Literally translating as ‘make a beautiful figure’, fare la bella figura means to make a good impression. Foreigners commonly associate this with the Italian obsession with wearing stylish clothes and being exceptionally well-groomed – but the concept actually goes way beyond the superficial. It also extends to customs and manners, including behaving with grace and tact in public.

What are the benefits?

Present yourself well to the world – in all aspects – and life will reward you greatly.

How can I do it too?

Be kind, considerate and respectful of others to avoid making a figuraccia, or a bad impression. Be your best self to live a happier life.

Fare La Bella Figura
Fare La Bella Figura | Michaela Pointon / © Culture Trip

6. Gezelligheid

Origin: The Netherlands

Tom Coggins, Culture Trip Netherlands Writer

What is it?

Even though it is untranslatable, the Dutch word gezelligheid captures a sense of well-being that bypasses linguistic boundaries. Think campfires, beers with old friends and warm sweaters – stuff related to winding down or spending time with loved ones.

What are the benefits?

As a native English speaker, learning about gezelligheid helped me realise that seemingly insignificant things like reading quietly or watching a film in bed with my partner are actually very important parts of daily life.

How can I do it too?

Creating a gezellig situation shouldn’t take any effort at all, as it is always something that you find easy and enjoyable. Identify what that is for you, and stick with it. The whole concept is very subjective, and it leaves room for people to try interrelated activities commonly associated with cosiness, togetherness, and comfort.

7. Buen vivir

Origin: Ecuador

Charlotte Peet, Latin America Commissioning Editor

What is it?

Buen vivir loosely translates to ‘the good life’ or ‘living well’. In Ecuador, greater emphasis is placed on the community and family, over the individual. People act with the collective in mind, while always considering themselves as part of the wider natural world. Ecuadorians place a higher value on the simple things in life: a good harvest, the health of their family and the fact that the sun is shining.

What are the benefits?

As a developing country, Ecuador has had to overcome challenges such as extreme poverty and natural disasters, that have often left people with little material possessions and a need for support from family and community. Instead of spending hours in the office in order to get ahead, Ecuadorians understand that what truly matters is spending time with loved ones, as well as caring for and preserving the environment around them. Buen vivir is attainable: irrespective of one’s socio-economic status, living well is all about appreciating what you have right now, rather than what you could have.

How can I do it too?

Buen vivir isn’t about altering your behaviour but rather, placing a more positive spin on the way you perceive your life. Slow down and think about the world around you; make time for friends and family, put their needs first, be thankful for that delicious meal, look up from your phone to enjoy that beautiful sunset and remember that a good life is often about memorable experiences, rather than what you own.

Buen vivir
Buen vivir | Michaela Pointon / © Culture Trip

8. Tachles

Origin: Israel

Florence Dixon, Culture Trip Israel Writer

What is it?

Tachles is a word that sums up the Israeli mentality of getting to the point. It is used in everyday discourse to get to the bottom line, and in this way Israelis appear direct and say what they think.

What are the benefits?

The tachles mentality has helped me be more honest and clear with my opinions, and become generally more assertive. It can also reduce passive aggressiveness, which is something British people do very well!

How can I do it too?

You can employ the tachles mentality by simply being more honest and direct with your opinions, and saying what you actually think and feel, rather than using insinuation and hints.

9. Wu wei

Origin: China

Rachel Deason, Culture Trip China Writer

What is it?

Wu wei, which roughly translates as ‘without effort’, is a Taoist concept that means allowing outside forces to work through you without pushing back against them. The best way to practice it is by acting without excessive effort, or by ridding yourself of ego before each undertaking. It is about being comfortable not doing the most. To put it in layman’s terms, wu wei is going with the flow.

What are the benefits?

There is strength in relinquishing control, and harmony and peace to be found in doing nothing.

How can I do it too?

Wait first before acting. Don’t jump on every opportunity that comes your way. Delegate. Let others influence the decisions you make. Be selfless. And just breathe.

Wu wei
Wu wei | Michaela Pointon / © Culture Trip

10. Pakikipagkapwa-tao

Origin: The Philippines

Katrina Escalona, Culture Trip Philippines Writer

What is it?

Pakikipagkapwa-tao means relating to someone else as a fellow human being. Filipinos most evidently exemplify pakikipagkapwa-tao through the practices of bayanihan and the ‘boodle fight’. The former is more widely done in rural areas of the country. When one person needs to accomplish a task (such as moving house) for example, the whole community pitches in to help – no questions asked. The latter is a dining practice where large groups of people eat together (with their hands, no utensils). This was initially done in the military as a way for the higher ranking officials to show unity with their troops.

What are the benefits?

Pakikipagkapwa-tao helps people by fostering solid communities and families that look out for one another. It gives Filipinos assurance that during times of hardship, they can rely on the people around them for help.

How can I do it too?

In today’s world where everyone seems driven by what benefits them, pakikipagkapwa-tao can be practised simply by looking out for other people. This means being more empathetic, more conscious of the needs of others, and more willing to help unconditionally (whether you get something out of it or not). Living this way can help foster a less selfish, more loving and humane world.