Reportage / Global
The happiness formula
We often ask people if they’re ‘ok’. But since when was being ok good enough? The cheery thread that runs through this issue isn’t about scraping by: it’s about celebrating the elements of life that surpass the ordinary. And it’s a simple formula to plot. Whether it means leaping into a lake or cutting shapes at a concert, you’ll find something to smile about in our revelrous rundown. It’s more than OK to enjoy it.
A hangover regime: The morning after — Most of us have short memories when it comes to knowing when enough’s enough – and sometimes these drinking hijinks come with a next-day price to pay. One simple stop-gap is a decent hangover remedy. A shower stocked with Alpine-foraged unguents from South Tyrolean firm Trehs is a start, while a few bottles of “genki” energy drinks (Oronamin C and Lipovitan D are most widely available) will provide a much-needed sugar fix. Before you know it you’ll be powering through your sleep debt and on to your early flight or morning meeting.
Find a furry friend: Pet project — Getting a puppy or adopting a canine companion isn’t a decision to take lightly but, done for the right reasons, it’s one of the most fulfilling things you can do. Caring for Fido will offer endless excuses for walks (and tummy tickles) and will instantly soften people’s perspectives towards you. Bringing a dog into an office is also calming, though likely to cause a short lull in efficiency as co-workers coo over him or her. This is very much the case at Midori House when our editor’s wire-haired fox terrier scampers in for a visit.
Get your hands dirty: Thrive under pressure — We’ve discovered that there are few greater pleasures than getting your hands dirty – so here’s to donning some clothes you don’t mind splashing and giving your decking a damn good hose-down. You’ll take great satisfaction from the fact that your patio is gleaming and your windows are shining; just as sparkly is the sense of a morning well spent. After you’ve sluiced the last muddy bits into the borders, the crowning glory arrives when you hose yourself down and admire your work, cup of coffee in hand.
Finish early: Bunk off — Even if you love your craft (or run your own firm), a little distance from your desk and returning to a problem refreshed will work wonders. Sneaking off for a chilled glass of white in the early afternoon – on a Tuesday if the feeling takes your fancy – is a panacea for most work-related woes. Plus, heading off early every now and again just feels good; it’s a small rebellion against a mostly arbitrary timetable that helps you wrest back some control and gives you time to reflect. Try it – the thrill will be its own reward.
A guilty pleasure: Pop art — Everyone has headphones (though not everyone uses them, sadly) but what of the satisfaction that comes from cranking up a sound system at home and rattling the blinds with the bass? There’s a time and place for slinky jazz tunes or audio books but we’re never happier than when we’re dancing to a cheesy-but-cheerful pop ditty with a little panache. “You Sexy Thing”? “Bat Out of Hell”? Honestly we’re not judging, whatever makes you happy. Keep a few kitsch albums to hand and you’ll see your mood rise remarkably.
A firm footing: Walk tall — Trainers may be a leveller that have become acceptable attire for anyone (young and old, CEO or student) but what about the surefootedness that comes from dressing up for an occasion? Shining a shoe ahead of a meeting shows diligence and dedication – and pays dividends in self-esteem and confidence. We’d suggest a quick spree with messieurs JM Weston, Crockett & Jones and Ludwig Reiter, plus the folks at Heschung and Paraboots, to shore up the informality imbalance.
A sense of privacy: Peace out — Sometimes it’s nice to break the check-and-respond bond we have with our messages and get a little lost. What about a wander without telling anyone where you’re going? Or a sunlit stroll to overhear a few snippets of city life, chance encounters and serendipity without being hounded by your notifications? And if you do need a powwow over the phone or want to watch a clip, be considerate to those around you. No one’s interested in listening to your tinny speakers or hearing from your aunt. Take time for your own privacy – and leave others to theirs.
A little security: Neighbourhood watch — Feeling safe will do wonders for your happiness. There’s nothing more comforting than the click of a front door shutting, except perhaps the flutter of a closing blind as you shut out the outside world and its worries for another day. Security is more about knowing and trusting your neighbours than installing CCTV cameras. A few more police on the streets might help – the hat-doffing “help you with your shopping ma’am?” types, ideally.
A meaningful missive: Put pen to paper — Answering emails is the modern equivalent of the sort of punishment that Greek gods doled out to mortals. As soon as we’ve rolled the rock of correspondence to the top of the empty-email hill, it teeters back and falls. It’s why getting a meaningful hand-penned letter in flush freehand – and on nice paper – is so touching. Who isn’t grateful for a thank-you card? As the magazine you’re holding attests, we think things that are worth saying do well in print. And a letter, particularly a personal one, is a humane antidote to the impersonal, electronic “communications” we’re bombarded with.
Order a burger: Eat indulgently — Get a burger and chips while your abstemious pals push pulses around their plates. We’re warned not to overindulge but there’s great pleasure to be had in pushing back and taking a little child-like joy from a comforting portion of salt-lashed fries (especially while your friends harrumph enviously at your dish over their sad salad leaves). Give yourself a treat now and again, have second helpings, get on the gravy train and don’t skimp on the sides. Would anyone like to see the dessert menu too?
An open fire: Eternal flame — In chillier climes, nothing makes winter more worthwhile than the excuse to gather and enjoy the primeval pleasure of an open fire. But why are they considered the preserve of mountain chalets and Alpine retreats? Fires shouldn’t just be about necking Glühwein and drying soggy salopettes at 1,500 metres. We’d be delighted if a few more pubs and restaurants were a little less fearful of the insurance premiums and more focused on the hearth-warming flicker of an open flame – and perhaps even a glass of Glühwein after all, if you’re asking?
A rail journey that never gets old: Train of thought — There are few delights like whiling away an afternoon watching the world go by through a train window between Osaka and Tokyo, or Zürich and Vienna, say. Perhaps it’s our willingness to relinquish control that makes you feel contented (you can’t speed the train up or slow it down and, with any luck, you’re on the right track already). A decent view, quiet carriage-mates and space (such as the Business Class seating on Italy’s Frecciarossa or Austria’s ÖBB) are all ingredients for a deeply rewarding afternoon.
A gig: In tune — What’s more freeing and fun than a late night on the tiles? Cast off your inhibitions once in a while (dance, even) and you’ll be surprised how quickly others will join in. Be it a late-night boogie at Berghain in Berlin or a little toe-tapping to a jazz band somewhere more salubrious, you’ll feel better for a melodious interlude. Here’s a happy image for you: a dancefloor without lead-footed phone-holders on it. Picture instead an experience shared merely by those in the room and the performer. Worrying about posting a good image online then totting up the “likes” is a recipe for anxiety, so enjoy what’s in front of you. Encore.
A spot to run and swim in: Great outdoors — Health is key to happiness but exercise shouldn’t be limited to small rooms or group classes. What about making a run for it? Whether it’s a leisurely loop around Regent’s Park or a canal-side canter, we all need to get out into the real world a little more. Parks are public forums in which to delight in city life, but don’t join the over-dressed runners or peloton of aggressive cyclists working on their lap times. Push for a good split by all means but remember you’re sharing the space. And don’t forget to smile.
An outdoor seat: Lounge time — If you’re lucky enough to own a balcony or breezy terrace then be sure to have somewhere from which to soak up the views. Swiss firm Embru’s galvanised steel Altorfer lounge chair is stackable, sturdy and suitable for the task (or just curling up with a book). It was designed by an office junior who came to the firm as a clerk in 1934 (full disclosure: his father was director of Embru at the time) and the mid-century majesty of the spaghetti-structured weaving is comfortable in the extreme. It’s available in a range of cheery colours – the jaunty yellow version is suitably sunny.
A meal with a view: Sumptuous solitude — Eating can be either mundane or magical but there are few spots in which we’ve had more memorable meals than Merano’s pale-wood-lined Leiter Am Waal restaurant. We’d suggest the spinach Schlutzkrapfen (a stuffed semi-circular pasta affair) or the steamy speck dumplings; either way, pair your meal with a glass of Gewürztraminer on the terrace. Your view will take in the Lagundo Waalweg hiking trail and Adige River; there are few better adverts for Alpine life. This ia a place to which to escape the trials of city living and just enjoy a meal of high merit.
A shop to sort your sleep: Drowsy delights — Opened on Munich’s Theresienstrasse in 1916, there are few shops more bedded into their market than Bavaria’s Bettenrid. Piled high with duvets and bed linen, it’s an advert for touching and testing the investment you’re making in a good night’s sleep (rather than buying your bedware or bath towels from an unseen source on the internet). Studies have shown a link between happiness and approaching the day well rested and we’re certain you’ll be happy you made the journey (there are two spaces in Munich and another in Frankfurt). Svenskt Tenn in Stockholm or Zur Schwäbischen Jungfrau in Vienna’s Innere Stadt are also comfortably best-in-class for the task in their respective cities.
A fragrance that transports you: Heaven scent — “Wiener Blut” literally means Viennese blood (less literally, “to be Viennese to the core”). The phrase was first coined in 1873 to account for Vienna’s peculiar mix of chilliness and charm, which has long defined the residents of the Austrian capital. It’s also the name of a firm started in 2009 that sells some of the most beguiling scents you’re likely to clap nostrils on. Freudian Wood is an eau de parfum with notes of cypress, sandalwood and mimosa that transports you to the breezy slopes of the Northern Limestone Alps, while Unheimlich is all vetiver, leather, birch-tar and red peppers. You’ll be happy you tried them.
A modest act of kindness: Helping hand — Cities tempt us in with their promise of opportunity but most city slickers miss the daily chance to do something unexpectedly nice for their fellow dwellers. To make your hometown just that little bit happier we’d suggest taking a little more notice of those around you (the shopping-burdened, the lost and the lady who just dropped her scarf) and lending a helping hand where you can. These everyday acts of kindness make big cities feel smaller, interactions less fraught and everyone concerned just a little more joyful. Giving even one iota of happiness to a stranger is its own reward.
A little competition: Anyone for tennis? — It’s OK to be competitive, you know. Pushing yourself, being disciplined and a little bloody-minded now and again (and in the right proportions and circumstances) are what makes winning such a gleeful thing: so challenge your fittest friend to a race (even if you lose you’re likely to get a good time), or how about squaring up to a friend who’s handy with a racket? Palma Sport & Tennis Club on the island of Mallorca serves up charm by the net-full, while Hebraica, a Jewish sports club in São Paulo’s suburb of Jardim Paulistano, also has few challengers when it comes to charm. Your serve.
A get-up that wins compliments: Feel-good fashion — To nudge away the blues try investing in an outfit that serves you from plane to boardroom and dinner afterwards. Start with a jacket from Munich-based A Kind of Guise coupled with a red crewneck from Antwerp-based Howlin’. Pair them with pleated trousers from PT Pantaloni, socks from RoToTo and underwear from The White Briefs. Finish off the look with Sunday Somewhere sunglasses, a belt from Andersons and a bucket hat by De Bonne Facture. For the ladies? A tan jacket from Sealup, vest by Sofie D’Hoore and trousers by Chloé.
A few familiar faces: Make friends — Sadly our high streets are still paying the price for high rents (imposed by over-ambitious property owners) and the ubiquity of faceless online interactions. But there are still a few avenues of opportunity that show you can say hello to the restaurateur, pharmacist, kiosk owner or florist. From Division Street in Portland to William Street in Sydney, and even Chiltern Street in London’s Marylebone (say hello to our editors in the Monocle Café at number 18), seek out a high-street in which a friendly smile replaces the click of a mouse.
A place to grow: Breath of fresh air — Keeping a few house ferns from drying out is par for the course these days, even a little passé. While investing in a well-pruned orangery may be a stretch, gussying up the garden or greening the balcony will do wonders for your mood while being civic-minded in the same breath. Plants have a proven calming effect and are good for regulating air temperature, storing rain water and increasing the oxygen level. And caring for plants is personally enriching too. We’ve also seen inspiring projects in Paris, where the municipal government is prospecting small, shared green spaces to recast as mini-gardens. So take over the vacant patch outside your house and get growing.
A movie night (in a building that’s aged gracefully): Big screen — The internet has made more films and television shows available to more people but the way in which we watch them has become a little crummy (often it’s hunched over a small screen while simultaneously eating dinner). There’s much to be said for the sense of occasion, superior sound system and widescreen wonder of a night at the movies. Well-preserved cinemas such as the Bio Rio in Stockholm’s Södermalm or the Golden Age Cinema in Sydney’s Surry Hills are precious examples of the art done well. Likewise London’s Curzon has been busy creating characterful spaces with surprising film line-ups, spot-on seats and a lively bar. Let’s make an evening of it.
A place in the Wald: Where the wild things are — Afraid that your children are more likely to look mutely at a screen than scream with delight or clamber up a tree? Welcome to the Waldkindergärten. In Germany a long-rooted culture of forest schools sees children – mostly those aged six and under – bundled up and taught to play outside, climb trees, brush off scraped knees and generally enjoy themselves. There are now more than 1,000 such outposts in the country and many have opened in the past decade in response to an appetite – among children and adults – to relish nature’s bounty, embrace the outdoors and enjoy the simpler things. There’s a lesson in there for all of us.