Amid a time of heightened global anxiety, the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute has opened the world’s first museum dedicated to that now-fleeting feeling. Fittingly, the museum is located in Denmark, which currently holds the title of second-happiest country on the planet.
“We all seem to be looking for happiness—but perhaps we are looking in the wrong places. We have gotten richer as societies but often failed to become happier,” says the Happiness Museum in a statement. “Therefore, the Happiness Research Institute decided to create a museum where we can bring happiness to life.”
The 2,585-square-foot venue opened in Copenhagen on July 14, reports Mark Johanson for CNN.
As Hakim Bishara writes for Hyperallergic, the museum features eight rooms dedicated to different theories on the nature of happiness. In one display, guests are asked to choose between an “experience machine” that provides users with infinite, albeit illusory, pleasure and the real world, which involves pain and suffering. Other exhibits include a room of maps identifying the world’s happiest and unhappiest countries, a happiness lab, an overview of the history of happiness, and an exploration of why Denmark and other Nordic countries consistently rank among the world’s happiest.
Happiness is notoriously hard—if not impossible—to quantify. Merriam-Webster defines the emotion as “a state of well-being and contentment,” but these terms signify different things to different people.
In recent years, organizations like the Happiness Research Institute have worked to measure happiness in a more systematic manner. The independent think tank draws on quantitative data including GDP, unemployment and interest rates, as well as more subjective measures like life satisfaction and emotion, to determine overall well-being in specific countries.
Other happiness metrics, such as the World Happiness Report, rely on the Gallup World Poll. This year, the survey added a new set of parameters, asking participants how social, urban and national environments impacted their quality of life, per Hyperallergic.
“We might be Danish or Mexican or American or Chinese, but we are first and foremost people,” Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, tells BBC Newsround. “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.”
The middle of a global pandemic may seem like an odd time to open a museum. According to the Los Angeles Times’ Deborah Vankin, one in six American museums risk permanent closure due to financial stresses compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic. But as Wiking tells CNN, he and his colleagues decided to open the museum because he felt that the world needed it now.
The CEO adds, “We thought, there might not be a lot of guests these days, but the world does need a little bit more happiness.”
Ahead of the museum’s launch, staff made an open call for donations of “objects that gave their owners joy,” writes Reina Gattuso for Atlas Obscura. Only 18 submissions made the cut; among others, the list included a badminton racket, an inhaler and a set of “comfort seeds” sprouted from a decade-old tomato seed found stuck to the shirt of donor Katie Diez’s late father.
“We thought it was so touching,” says Onor Hanreck Wilkinson, a researcher at the Happiness Institute.