Happiness, like art, is often subjective, but unlike art, happiness isn’t something you’d expect to find hanging in a museum. Or, at least it wasn’t until an entire museum devoted to happiness opened in Copenhagen this past July.
The Happiness Research Institute—yes, there really is such a thing—is the driving force behind the new project. According to their mission statement, the independent think tank’s goal in exploring why some societies are happier than others “is to inform decision-makers of the causes and effects of human happiness, make subjective well-being part of the public policy debate, and improve [the] overall quality of life for citizens across the world.”
“I think people imagine that the Institute is like a magical place,” CEO Meik Wiking joked in an interview with CNN, “a room full of puppies or ice cream—but we are just eight people sitting in front of computers looking at data.”
After receiving numerous public requests to visit their less-than-magical offices, the “Happiness Crew” was struck by a notion: If people truly wanted a place where they could gain a better understanding of what makes human happiness tick, why not give them one?
“We thought, why don’t we create a place where people can experience happiness from different perspectives and give them an exhibition where they can become a little bit wiser around some of the questions we try to solve?” Wiking explained.
On July 14, 2020, with strict COVID-19 protocols in place, the 2,585 square-foot museum made its debut. With a current maximum capacity of 50, visitors are invited to explore happiness from a global perspective that includes historical insights on how the concept of happiness has evolved over the ages, and the ways in which varying regional cultures define the term.
The museum houses a vast collection of donated artifacts that represent happiness to people from around the globe. “We might be Danish or Mexican or American or Chinese, but we are first and foremost people,” Wiking told CNN. “It’s the same things that drive happiness no matter where we’re from, and I hope that people will see that in the exhibition.”
It’s safe to say that Wiking, who wrote international bestseller “The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way To Live Well,” knows more than a thing or two about happiness. And he has some hopeful words for all of us in the pandemic.
“When we follow people over time,” he noted, “we can see that they are remarkable at overcoming the challenges that happen to them… Of course, it’s necessary to be optimistic in my profession, but I think we can overcome these times as well.”