It began at the end of last year when I was putting together a list of wellbeing trends for 2018. Suddenly it seemed that every Scandinavian country had its own philosophy.
Hygge – the Danish word for homeliness and cosiness was there. And it had brought along its cuzzies – the Swedish word ‘lagom’- which means moderation – not too much and not too little, and the Norwegian concept of ‘friluftsliv’ – open air living – or as we Antipodeans call it – living.
Do The Scandinavians Own Wellbeing Now?
I’m being facetious – it is an actual deeply felt Norwegian philosophy by all accounts. But I was beginning to feel a little threatened by these foreign words for things we do too. Is this what cultural appropriation feels like? It sucks!
The final straw came when I read an article on Finland in The Guardian and realised that, not to be outdone by their peers, they also had a philosophy of life – called sisu: “a kind of dogged, courageous persistence regardless of consequence” according to the article. What – like Ed Hillary or Burke and Wills?
Well actually, “It is what, in 1939-40, allowed an army of 350,000 men to twice fight off Soviet forces three times their number, and inflict losses five times heavier than those they sustained”. So, more like the Anzac Spirit, except that at Gallipoli our courageous persistence didn’t end up too well. We saw it as more of a national hint to stop listening to far away generals than as proof of our fortitude.
You see – we potentially have cool national philosophies too, we just need the right stories and an acknowledgement of the shared belief. We can elevate our way of life from purely practical to internationally desirable. All we need to do is talk the talk, write the books and reap the benefits!
We’ve already thrown away some opportunities. New Zealand has squandered its clean green image and Australia is hardly the lucky country any more. Sun-baking didn’t turn out to be a helluva good idea, nor did walk shorts. In terms of lifestyle, open plan living and indoor-outdoor flow both came from us – as southern as the flat white.
But we didn’t market them properly, and we didn’t protect them. Perhaps we didn’t think about them properly. Take ‘lagom’ for instance. It’s about not standing out, having just the right amount – the Goldilocks principle. According to Wikipedia:
In a single word, lagom is said to describe the basis of the Swedish national psyche, one of consensus and equality. In recent times Sweden has developed greater tolerance for risk and failure as a result of severe recession in the early 1990s. Nonetheless, it is still widely considered ideal to be modest and avoid extremes. “It’s the idea that for everything there is the perfect amount: The perfect, and best, amount of food, space, laughter and sadness.”
Positive Beats Negative
This core sentiment also exists in New Zealand, but here it is called the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ and it’s not a good thing at all. It is seen as negative because at some point in our past, standing out by aspiring to more became a socially dangerous exercise. Even an All Black scoring a try to win a critical test match had to project humility. Even Sir Ed was seen as a skite in some circles. Was this to stop the rest of us feeling bad because we hadn’t scored a test try or climbed Everest? Couldn’t we just bathe in reflected glory for a while? Or was this all to allow the perpetrator of glory to keep on fitting in down at his local RSA?
Personally I don’t believe the TPS is as widespread now as it may have been back in the day, nor is it as unique to NZ culture as its critics would have us believe. But it is an object lesson – if only our forebears had thought it through a bit and developed amore positive philosophy around the idea of not standing out . . . It could be us [somewhat ironically] standing head and shoulders above the lagom crowd – ready to save the world from climate change and other symptoms of excess.
Do We Have a Shared Wellbeing Philosophy?
Compared to the Scandinavians, Kiwis and Ozzies do have some disadvantages in marketing new social ideas to the world. If it’s an English word, other anglo cultures can just borrow it or make it seem commonplace. Also, unlike the Scandinavians, New Zealand and Australia are diverse migrant nations where not everyone shares the same background. Auckland is the fourth most diverse city in the world according to a 2015 report and Sydney and Melbourne aren’t far behind. So it’s less likely that we will have a modern wellbeing philosophy that is both common and unique. Not that the two countries have to have the same concept. The Scandinavians each own a different aspect of wellbeing or pragmatism.
So here are some contenders:-
- The big OE. It needs a new name that translates to something like – life-broadening-youth-journey. Pilgrimage is too religious – even if some of the young antipodeans’ bonding rituals did happen to take place in church.
- Self-dependence. Kiwis and Aussies call it independence, but some young Indian migrants, we’ve interviewed, call it self-dependence. This contrasts with the family dependence they were expected to be part of back home. Beginning with the practice of letting 3 year olds choose their own clothes [tutus and gumboots?] we bake self-dependence into our socialisation. Driving licenses, going flatting, big OE – all part of the same cluster.
- Irreverence. Antipodeans – especially New Zealanders have low levels of tolerance of authority – low power distance levels.This is according to a concept developed by social scientist Geert Hofstede.
“Individuals in cultures demonstrating a high power distance are very deferential to figures of authority and generally accept an unequal distribution of power, while individuals in cultures demonstrating a low power distance readily question authority and expect to participate in decisions that affect them.
New Zealand scores much lower than other Anglo countries but Austria [not Australia] is lowest of all – have a play with this interactive graph if you like.
Making the World a Better Place
So yeah, don’t listen to me – make up your own mind! But I look forward to being able to wipe those smug Scandinavian concepts off the list of trends for 2019 by showcasing some genuine Kiwi/Ocker/Anzac philosophies that will help to make the world a better place. Let’s show some moderately dogged persistence and get the job done!