Rituals of the World’s Happiest People

Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute—a think–tank dedicated to well–being, happiness and quality of life—explores how travel is an essential ingredient for happy memories in this excerpt from his book, The Art of Making Memories.

“Please describe one of your happy memories.” This was the question we asked participants in the Happiness Research Institute’s 2018 study called The Happy Memory Study—a massive global study around happy memories. We were not searching for any particular memory, so we asked people simply to write down the first happy memory that came to mind.

I was overwhelmed by the response we got. The Happy Memory Study is, as far as I know, the biggest global collection of happy memories to date.

One pattern that emerged was new experiences. 23 per cent of the memories were novel or extraordinary experiences such as visiting a country for the first time. So make sure to make plans to visit new places – be it an exotic destination or the park across town.

September 26, 2019
The coastline of a Tasmanian beach
“Salt in the air, sand in my hair (and everywhere else).” #tasmania #makingmemories #wanderlust   Photo: @_katharina_anna_

I love going back to places I’ve been to before. Every summer, I go to Bornholm, a small island in the Baltic Sea. I have a small place there. I enjoy knowing where the wild cherries grow and where to go spearfishing for flounders. But recently I have come to appreciate the importance of going somewhere I have not been before, to make new memories. To make the pace of time slow down when I look back ten years from now. And going someplace new doesn’t always have to mean north–west Mongolia or Ouagadougou. It can also mean that park at the other end of town.

Instagram has also become an integrated ritual of travelling and making memories. There are more than 8 million posts on Instagram with the hashtag #makingmemories and more than 70 million just with #memories. There are also more than 17,000 posts with #memoriess, so even people who can’t remember how ‘memories’ is spelled post about them.

A ground view of the Busan Tower next to a pagoda
“Climbing up endless amounts of stairs to get there we noticed on the way down we could have walked up a path 😂 Saying that it was all worth it for the views.” #busantower #makingmemories #wanderlust    Photo: @apairofdaydreamers

At the Happiness Research Institute, we ran an analysis of Instagram posts with the #makingmemories hashtag. We randomized the photos we selected to make sure we did not have time–zone biases or seasonal biases and we excluded photos posted by companies or which had a commercial purpose. However, the analysis did include a language bias, as we only included posts in English. So if we ran the study in Danish or Russian it may have looked different.

So, what are people doing when they say they are making memories? Well, the analysis shows that people who post with the #makingmemories hashtag fall into roughly four categories.

First, there is the #momlife–dadlife–familylife category. Kids being cute. Kids playing in the snow. Kids making a mess in the kitchen. The carved pumpkins, the Christmas trees and the trip to Disneyland. Second, there is the #SassyPOTD (Post of the Day) category. Girls’ nights out. Boys’ night out. Friendships, BBFs and squad goals. Cocktails and shots and things that seemed like a good idea at the time. Third, there is the #Love category. Weddings and anniversaries. Getaways and long weekends. Couples smiling at the camera. Also known as the look–what–I’ve–caught category. But the lion’s share of posts falls into the fourth category – the #Wanderlust category. The vacations. The discoveries. The adventures.

The courtyard of a building with many glass windows in Copenhagen
“Jobs fill your pockets, but adventures fill your soul.” #copenhagen #makingmemories #wanderlust   Photo: @elena_zana

It is the mountains we climbed, the cities we explored and the sunsets we chased. New Zealand, New York and new horizons. Memories are made when our wanderlust is unleashed. When we’re travelers. When we’re explorers. When we’re adventurers.

Memories are made when we tread in the footsteps of the David Livingstones, the Marco Polos and the Vasco da Gamas. When we set sail, take off, or lace up our hiking boots. When we hunt for treasure – and that treasure is a memorable life.

Making memories is to embrace the travel–often mantra. You can always make money – you can’t always make memories.

*This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity.