A Happiness Museum opened in Denmark’s capital city of Copenhagen, because if not in a Nordic country, where else in the world would it be opened?
Denmark, a social democracy that provides free healthcare and higher education to its citizens, ranks high in the United Nation’s annual ranking of the world’s happiest nations (it comes second after Finland.) Now, the Scandinavian country wants to show the rest of the world how it’s done with a museum dedicated to the science and history of happiness.
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Inaugurated in July, the Happiness Museum was established by the Happiness Research Institute, an independent think-tank in Copenhagen focusing on well-being, happiness, and quality of life. Both institutions are helmed by Meik Wiking, the author of several bestselling self-help books on the secrets of well-being and happiness.
The museum includes eight rooms with interactive displays that present different perspectives on happiness. One room features an atlas of the world’s happiest (and unhappiest) countries. Another explores the role of a country’s politics and wealth in the happiness of its citizens. There you can listen to a speech by John F. Kennedy which addresses the shortcomings of measuring progress through the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The UN’s World Happiness Report is based on subjective well-being responses, collected by Gallup World Poll, rather than scientific data. This year, citizens around the world were asked for the first time how social, urban, and natural environments affect their happiness. Finland and Denmark, the two countries topping the list, have increased their average score compared to last year. The United States lags behind at 18th place (a slight improvement from 19th place last year). According to the report, higher “personal and institutional trust” are key factors in explaining why life evaluations are so high in Nordic countries.
Another exhibit displays personal objects, donated by people from around the round, that represent their happiest memories. In an interactive exhibit titled “The Anatomy of a Smile,” guests use a mirror to figure out which side of Mona Lisa’s face is smiling. In another, they are invited to wear headphones and listen to a laughter sequence to test if they’re prone to contagious laughter.
Other installations outline the history of happiness with texts from the Enlightenment period through modern-day self-help books. There is also a “happiness lab” that explains the physiology of laughter and how it changes with age and an exhibit that explains the Nordic Hygge concept of coziness and comfort.
The premise of the museum is that we tend to look for happiness in the wrong places. To illustrate that point, the museum offers what it calls “light therapy and thought experiments.” For example, guests are asked to choose between an “experience machine” that provides pleasant experiences that are illusions and the real world, which involves loss, pain, and discomfort.
With these interactive exhibits, the museum hopes to give real value to its visitors beyond passing entertainment. “Our hope is guests will leave a little wiser, a little happier and a little more motivated to make the world a better place,” said Wiking.
And for those who can’t make it to Copenhagen, the museum provides a useful tip on its website from writings of the German enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant: “Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”