A Darwin® Book



My country, Norway, is an excellent place to live. We have sufficient welfare to satisfy most needs, and we excel in terms of international comparisons of living standards. Nevertheless, health statistics suggest that not everything is as it ought to be. Approximately half the Norwegian population suffers at least one diagnosable mental disorder in a lifetime. Too many struggle with anxiety and depression; others suffer from chronic pain, loneliness, poor sleep, and misuse of alcohol or drugs. The brain is a delicate organ, and problems associated with it tend to have unpleasant consequences. In other words, it seems as though the quality of life for the average Norwegian is not that excellent-at least not as good as it ought to be, and perhaps could be.
      The situation is similar in other industrialized countries. The welfare and health programs provided by society offer most people what the body requires but fail to satisfy the needs of the mind. It's a shame, because processes taking place in the brain determine whether one is happy or not. A broken leg causes some pain, but does not necessarily ruin your mood-a depression does.
      If we can find out what causes the misery and why industrialized societies produce mental agony, I strongly believe it should be possible to alleviate this situation. A key purpose of my work as a chief scientist at the Division of Mental Health of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health is to identify measures that can improve mental health. To find out what it takes to be happy is, therefore, not only a personal pursuit, but also what my job is about. In the hope of finding remedies, I have traveled the globe studying people who live in ways that differ from what most of us are used to-for the reason that there is a lot to be learned from these people.
—Bjørn Grinde