Chaos is the New Normal – How to be Happier in a Non-Stop World

When you drive off the ferry at New Zealand’s Waiheke Island you’re greeted by a sign that says ‘Slow down. You’re here’. What a wonderful reminder about life in general. Because if you look around you’ll see the opposite; hordes of homo sapiens grabbing the reins of the materialistic chariot and digging their spurs deep into the horse’s flank. Faster! Faster! The modern world is, on balance, a fabulous place. But we’re burdened with excess baggage.

We have been taught that freedom is the freedom to pursue our petty, trivial desires. Whereas real freedom is freedom from our petty, trivial desires. And there’s nothing more tempting than a smartphone, a distraction device designed to lure you into idling away your time. This is okay until you twig that time is all you have. Glued to your screen, downloading your emails, watching cat videos, uploading a picture of your meal, checking your calendar, posting a Twitter update, checking your favourite websites – your life clock doesn’t stop ticking as you stare at your screen. Our life is not on pause. The cheeky 40 minutes it’s taken to do all of the above – this IS your life.

The problem with the world wide web is entanglement in stimulation of the shallow kind. The bubblegum kind – scrolling, double-thumbing, updating, checking – it keeps you occupied but there is little nutritional value.

Surrounded by the technological distractions and chaos of the modern world, too many people are putting happiness in the wrong time zone; I’ll be happy at Christmas, I’ll be happy in the summer, I’ll be happy when I retire…

The result is we have a massive ‘wait problem’. Getting stuck in the rut of wishing your life away is a terrible waste of your days. In fact, it makes no sense at all. So wake up to the fact that Winter and Summer are equal. They both represent a quarter of your life. 

Quit waiting. Life is the ultimate special occasion. Here’s how to slow down and be happier:

Lesson #1: What have the Danes ever done for us?

Something you might be familiar with, the Danish concept of ‘hygge’. It’s a super-sexy word that’s been doing the rounds since last winter. Pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, there is no direct English translation. Sitting by the fire on a cold night, wearing a woolly jumper, while drinking hot chocolate and stroking the cat on my knee. That’s pretty much ‘hygge’. 

The best approximation is ‘cosiness’ or ‘being enveloped in snuggliness’, but it’s much more than that. Hygge is an entire attitude to life that helps Denmark to consistently rank in the top 3 world’s happiest countries. It’s about family and friends and hints at what we already know, that relationships are crucial to happiness. 

Lesson #2: 7 second hugs

Trust me on this. The average hug lasts 2.1 seconds. Which is perfectly fine. But for the love to properly transfer between two people, a hug needs to last 7 seconds or longer. Obviously, reserve it for the people you love most (so, for example, it’s not administered to strangers in the park) and don’t count out loud (cos that kills it) but get it right and it’s a game changer.

Be a hugger. It spreads warmth, love and happiness.

Lesson #3: Calculate your happiness

According to the esteemed researchers at the University of London’s Institute of Education, here are some monetary values of happiness:

  • Seeing friends and relatives is equivalent to a pay rise of £64k a year
  • Having nice neighbours is worth £37k a year
  • And the biggy? Excellent health is estimated to be worth £300k a year to you

I sincerely hope you can tick some of the boxes above, in which case, please do your sums. If you can tick them all then you’re a lottery winner. That should put a spring in your step.

Lesson #4: More Scandinavian Happiness

The Swedes have a word, Lagom, which doesn’t quite translate into English. The best approximation might be ‘adequate’, ‘sufficient’ or if I’m allowed to create a new word, ‘enoughness’. The science of happiness tells us that there’s nothing wrong with having money and possessions (at no point on the money/happiness graph does money make you less happy) but the relentless pursuit of ‘more’ leads to unhappiness.

So quit pursuing more and settle for the happy medium of lagom. A really cool happiness trick is to learn to appreciate what you already have.

Written by: Andy Cope

Dr Andy Cope is a positive psychologist and happiness expert. His new book Zest: How to Squeeze the Max out of Life is out now. Find out more about Andy at

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