When hygge isn't enough

When hygge isn’t enough

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Hygge is a particularly Danish sentiment. It’s more than happiness. More than contentment with your lot in life. Hygge is the word that describes a laidback, blissful shared moment where everything feels right with the world.

According to the Danes, it’s “a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people. The warm glow of candlelight is hygge. Friends and family—that’s hygge too. There's nothing more hygge than sitting around a table, discussing the big and small things in life.”

Hygge is one of the things that makes Denmark the world’s happiest country.

Something doesn’t quite add up

Compare that list of the world’s happiest countries—topped by Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland—and it doesn’t resemble the lists and tables of where expats choose to go.

In fact, Denmark ranks a meagre 50th among the world’s most popular expat destinations, according to one survey this year.

Indeed, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Finland don’t appear in expats’ top 30 preferred destinations either.

Instead, you’ll find Taiwan top of the expat league—35th in the happiness league. Expats’ second and third choices of where to live—Malta and Ecuador—are 30th and 51st respectively in the UN-backed World Happiness league. 

So why the mismatch between the world’s happiest countries and the most popular expat destinations?

Don’t expats want to maximise their chances of happiness when they move overseas? Surely a “happy” country would seem a good place to start?

When hygge isn’t enough

"Species" of expats and their happiness

The World Happiness Report looks at six key factors that, according to researchers at least, help govern how happy a country’s population is. 

Those factors span national wealth per head, freedom of choice, freedom from perceived corruption, the level of social support from friends, family and society at large, generosity and charitable giving, and finally healthy life expectancy.

By contrast, expat surveys look more at the practicalities of moving, settling in and living in a country.

Expats want to know about the cost of living, job prospects, work-life balance and how easy it is to settle down.

They want to know about the quality of housing, leisure facilities and transport infrastructure.

Is there good healthcare? Is there good quality education—and affordable education—for my children?

Finally, do these countries welcome expats and particularly expat families?

Indeed, 10 distinct “species” of expats have been identified—representing the different motives that drive people to move overseas, other than a plain search for happiness.

Three of these expat “species” move overseas for family reasons. This may be the a “traveling spouse” who follows their partner abroad, a romantic spirit who moves away looking for love, or a long-term resident expat who is raising a family and may well apply for citizenship in their chosen country.

Another three of these “species” move because of their career. They’ve been sent on an assignment by their employer; found a job overseas of their own volition; or they are a “career expat” who has travelled, settled and moved on from country to country over a number of years. Closely related to this “species” are the student expats, who go abroad to further their education.

Finally, there’s the another type of expat. These are the adventurers, entrepreneurs and people who dream of new cultures, experiences, climates and challenges.

In other words, expats are not a singular breed who find happiness in the safest, most comfortable or even the most financially-rewarding country.

In some cases, the choice of where they end up in the world is dictated by opportunities created by others—a partner or an employer—rather than by themselves.

And for them, picking from what the UN sees as “happy countries” may not even be an option.

Instead, they make the best of where they end up. And that’s the moral of the story: the key to making a success of expat life is making the most of where you are.

And if real Danish hygge is creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people, there’s nothing to stop expats taking the ethos of Scandinavian-style shared happiness with them wherever they go.


Aetna / Expatica


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