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I’ve often wondered why Denmark is often voted as the happiest place to live in the world.

So I decided to travel there to see if I could find out why.

Is it because of all the pickled herring they eat? All that lovely Omega-three contributing to a more positive mood?

Could it be their cycling habits? Residents of Copenhagen cycle the equivalent of travelling around the world 31 times every day! That’s a great way to burn off stress and boost your feel-good hormones.

Maybe it’s because they get to spend a lot of time playing with LEGO ®, firing their creativity and imagination and having a lot of fun.

It turns out the Danes and the other Scandinavian countries have something unique. It’s a word for something that doesn’t exist in our lexicon.

Could a single word be the difference?

It just might.

The word is arbejdsglaede.

Yes it’s a tricky word to say, you have to half swallow your tongue to pronounce it correctly (ah- bites- gle- the) but it’s well worth the effort.

It’s the word for work happiness.

Every one of us will spend an average of 90,000 hours of our lives (for some of us many more) at work, that’s more time than we spend with our family and friends. Yet for too many of us that time is spent being miserable. Some people hate their job or hate the people they work with. Some workplace environments are toxic with an atmosphere is polluted by mistrust, backstabbing and bullying.

Happiness at work matters because how we feel has a huge impact on performance. We are far more efficient and productive when we feel that the work we do is worthwhile, that we have the resources to assist us, and the autonomy to do our job well.

While having a nice coffee machine, access to a gym or free parking adds to our job satisfaction, what drives our happiness, motivation or engagement are our relationships and sense of purpose.

While in Copenhagen I caught up with Alexander Kjerhulf speaker, author and chief happiness officer of Woohoo Inc, a highly successful consultancy that works with companies to integrate greater happiness into workplace culture.

You can hear my short audio conversation with Alex here.

I was also invited to visit SEB, voted the happiest place to work in Denmark. It was impressive to see how committed the CEO was to the process of introducing greater happiness at work over the last 4-5 years. Changing workplace culture takes take and perseverance.

What I’ve learned is,

  • Happiness at work is not rocket science, it’s just we’ve bought into the idea that work has to be hard or endured to be able to achieve our goals and be successful.
  • Happiness at work is essential to developing a high-performance workplace.
  • That happier, healthier employees work better, which is good for the individual, for teams, for business and society as a whole.
  • That it’s a process, it takes time, and needs to be treated as a project to be effectively managed.
  • It has to be voluntary. It goes without saying you can’t force yourself to be happy, it has to be something you want to be a part of.
  • It’s not about being deliriously happy all the time either. That would be ridiculous and unrealistic. We all have good days, not so good days and sometimes some really crappy days. What counts is how many better days we enjoy overall and to persevere in seeking out new ways to feel better about our life and work in general.

Everyone can be happier at work if they choose. Though the real magic happens when leaders embrace in investing in their most precious asset, the brains and minds of those who work for them.

As the late Steve Jobs said,

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”     

How happy are you at work?

What initiatives has your workplace undertaken to provide a great work environment that makes you feel valued, appreciated and supported to always be at your best?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dr Jenny Brockis

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and internationally board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, workplace health and wellbeing consultant, podcaster, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book 'Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life' (Wiley) is available online and at all good bookstores.

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