The Scandi Guide to Better Health & Happiness

With Scandinavian and Nordic countries topping the World Happiness Report (yet again) this year, a Swedish lifestyle expert shares tips to help us improve our wellbeing, Scandi-style.

For the eighth year in a row, Scandinavian countries have scooped top places in the World Happiness Report 2020.

The first report was released in 2012. It was compiled in support of a UN meeting on wellbeing and happiness in relation to economic, government and social factors.

Each annual report has included updated evaluations and a range of special topics digging deeper into the science behind wellbeing, collectively referred to as “happiness”, for specific countries and regions.

For 2020, Finland took first place, Denmark second, Norway fifth and Sweden seventh globally. The Scandinavians clearly know a thing or two about happiness.

A good work-life balance is paramount to maintaining good health and happiness. Sweden, like many of the Nordic countries, is often praised for its forward-thinking social policies aimed at boosting citizens’ wellbeing.

portrait of happy father and daughter looking at camera

Picture: iStockphoto

Some of the country’s policies include generous maternity and paternity leave and subsidised childcare for all children. There’s also flexible working for everyone, regardless of pay level or position at work.

Here Catharina Björkman, Swedish lifestyle expert at wood-burning stove brand Contura, shares her Scandi lifestyle hacks for a healthy, happy, balanced life.

Lifestyle and the national psyche…

“Aside from the world of work, there are many reasons why Sweden continues to score highly in the World Happiness Report,” says Catharina.

“Sweden’s high-ranking position is a testament to the lifestyle factors and trends ingrained into the national psyche. This is as well as government measures to ensure the happiness of its citizens is at the top of the national agenda.

“From enjoying fika every day, to ensuring our homes are designed in a way to instil calm, there are several things to learn from Scandinavian culture for a more balanced and happy life.”

Scandi nutrition

Young woman holding mixed walnuts and almonds in a heart shaped white bowl.

Pic: iStockphoto

Catharina explains, “Omega 3-rich oily fish, vitamin-packed berries, fibre-rich whole grains and protein-packed nuts make up much of the everyday diet in Scandinavian countries.

“A wholesome diet focused on local, seasonal and nutritious foods are the building blocks of any happy, healthy body, and easy to replicate in the UK.

“Look for seasonal items in the supermarkets and up your cooking regimen to include healthy staples. Try to cook at home as much as possible, and have 5-10 recipes you’re confident at creating.”

Daily downtime

Coffee and walnut cake on a cake stand

“Fika is a daily social ritual in Sweden – taking time out of your day for a coffee and a sweet treat. You simply stop whatever you’re doing and enjoy 10-15 minutes’ quality downtime.

“In fact, regular breaks are shown to boost productivity, as they give your brain and body a chance to recharge.”

Enjoy the everyday

“Mindfulness, meditation and gratitude rituals have been shown to improve overall health and happiness if practised long-term.

“Mindfulness teaches us to take time out of our busy lives to think about the positives in our lives. It refocuses our attention on what matters and creates a more calming environment by being more present in the moment.

“Meditation also teaches us to be aware of our own thoughts and feelings and be in tune to the world around us. Just 15 minutes’ meditation before work or during the commute can make a huge difference. We recommend the Calm app.”

Quality time with friends and family

If you can’t be with them, you can still be in touch

“We all feel better after spending time with our friends, so ensure you have regular catch ups, even during busy periods.

“In the current climate, rather than having friends over, why not enjoy a video chat, board game, quiz or simply have a catch up?”

Embrace lagom

Pic: Shutterstock

“A balanced lifestyle, or lagom in Swedish, is a key component of happiness. Lagom is an area Swedes excel in, as we understand the importance of a healthy balance in life.

“Try not to get consumed by one aspect of your life. Instead ensure each area is getting enough of your time and attention.

“For example, if an important work project requires you to work longer hours, follow this with a relaxing weekend at home.

“If your work is sedentary by nature, counter this by spending weekends out of doors. Ensure you’re getting enough regular exercise too.”

Bring the outside in

Modern living room, cream shades, with plants

Pic: Shutterstock

“The benefits of house plants and foliage include better air circulation and improved air quality. Plants also give a home an inexpensive yet instant uplift,” Catharina says.

“Get creative with your plants.

  • Group them together in height order
  • add hanging plants and ivy to door frames or curtain rails for a unique look
  • add cacti and smaller plants to bookshelves for an on-trend touch.

“Arrange plants in a way to ensure they have enough sunlight and take care to water regularly.

“Opt for easy care varieties such as cacti, succulents, spider plants and aloe vera. Or choose soothingly scented lavender, mint or chamomile plants.”

Scandinavian style at home

Calming room with neutral colours, laminate floor, round white rug and sleek modern stove

Pic: Shutterstock

“In Sweden,” Catharina explains, “our home is our sanctuary. We know that the home should be a place to relax and unwind, and this is reflected by the pared-back design of Scandi interiors.

“To create this look in your own home, choose soothing wall colours (misty greys, forest greens, tranquil blues). Then add interesting design features, such as an unusual floor lamp or unique art on the walls.

“Remember the golden rules: less is more and only make space for items, furnishings and artworks we know we will truly love.”

Create A Cosy Corner

Cane swing chair on stand, plants and voile curtain at window

Pic: Shutterstock

If you are self isolating or working from home, why not use the time to declutter (at least partly) and transform a corner of your home an oasis of calm?

All you need is a comfy chair, a soft throw, a lamp for mood lighting and some plants. No to-do lists, packets of snacks or phones allowed!

If you can position your calm corner near a window, this is ideal. Then you can enjoy the changing natural light and perhaps see birds passing. Make it a lovely place where you love to go, simply to curl up and relax or read.



Sarah Proctor

I've worked on a variety of regional newspapers and national magazines. My Weekly and Your Best Ever Christmas are fantastic, warm-hearted brands with an amazing, talented team. I'm a sub-editor and particularly love working on cookery, fiction and advice pages - I feel I should know all the secrets of eternal life, health and happiness by now, but hey, we all need that regular reminder!