Golin Untern kicks off his pursuit of happiness

My name is Leslie, but like my family and friends you can call me Les. I’m 23 years young and I’ve just been selected as Golin London’s 2017 Untern. With my flights booked and bags packed, I’m about to embark on an epic and insightful journey through the world’s happiest countries.

A few months ago while pulling all-nighters in the library, it’s fair to say I could never have pictured this. I was working hard for my degree finals at Manchester Metropolitan University. However, I must thank my ability to successfully procrastinate for allowing me to stumble upon this incredible opportunity while endlessly scrolling through Facebook on one of those many all-nighters.

Stuck in the increasingly common graduate dilemma of either diving straight into the exciting world of work, or dropping everything and going travelling — the Golin Unternship quite literally provided the best of both worlds. As I recall from the Facebook ad, why not “get paid not to come to work?” From that moment on, my undivided attention was captured and I spent the next few days mind mapping and researching topical ideas for the unconventional, CV free application.

Ultimately for my adventure, I chose the universal topic of happiness. For many, achieving this state of being is the biggest desire of our lives. I looked into the recently published United Nations World Happiness report and an immediate trend jumped out – the Nordic countries’ domination of the ‘world’s happiest countries’ list since the report’s inception.

This of course raised a multitude of questions, such as how do these cold and dark places manage to reach such superior levels of happiness to the rest of us? Furthermore, how have they managed to sustain this happiness for so long? 

To gain insight into the answers, I delved deeper into the reports and surrounding literature. It struck me that GDP had great influence in determining a ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy’ country. This raised the critique of the report’s results, which suggested the wealthier a country is, the happier it is? Which invariably brings in the argument: does money equate to happiness?

One person who unwaveringly believes it doesn’t is statistician Nic Marks. He asks why we measure a nation’s success by its productivity, instead of by the happiness and wellbeing of its people. Thus he and a few others created the Happy Planet Index, which focuses on the intangibles such as laughter, smiles and freedom. This index then measures this ‘happiness score’ against how much of Earth’s resources are used to achieve that level of happiness (because a happy life doesn’t have to cost the earth).

The results from this report were simply staggering. In complete contrast to the UN report, Latin American countries now dominated the top 10. 

Thus my idea was born, during my Untern adventure I’m travelling to two of the top countries on the UN report – Norway and Denmark and two of the top countries on the Happy Planet Index – Costa Rica and Colombia.

In keeping with the topic, I’ve decided to shape my travels using the ‘5 positive actions for improved happiness’ outlined below by the UK government. I’ll delve deep into the heart of each unique culture, then I will compare and contrast my experiences to provide first-hand insight into the overarching question of:

What makes these guys so darn happy?!

A few examples of how I plan on bringing these actions to life:

1. Being Active in Norway by climbing the most challenging mountains and kayaking through fjords.

2. Taking Notice in Costa Rica as I witness the annual migration of the endangered humpback whales.

3. Connecting with complete strangers in Colombia

4. Giving Back in Costa Rica through carefully selected and purposeful volunteering projects.

5. Keep Learning about the ‘Hygge’ culture in Denmark and how to surf lessons in Costa Rica

With such diverse countries the possibilities are truly endless. I’m ready to go all in and will be sharing my insights and experiences through this blog golin.com/uk/unternship, on Golin’s Twitter – @GolinUntern and my personal Instagram account – @LeslieAlfonso