by Denise Riebman

I fell in love with Kanelstang in Denmark.

While the Scandinavian men are very attractive, Kanelstang is not the name of my vacation fling. Nope, it’s the Danish word for cinnamon buns. As I sat in the café eating one each morning (and often again in the afternoon), I observed the elements that I believe make up the Danish holy grail for career happiness.

1. Bicycles

Rush hour in Copenhagen is a mad dash of bicyclists—breathing in fresh air (albeit brutally cold air during the dark winter months), controlling their commute, and connecting with others, who noticeably were not wearing earbuds. While biking is my own favorite way to get to work, it’s not the biking in and of itself that contributes to career happiness, it’s the side effects that bikers and non-bikers can learn from that matter.

Are there one or two small ways in which you can increase your control over your commute? Such as, leaving earlier/later; listening to a podcast versus stressful news; coming up with a friendly excuse for not walking to the bus stop with the negative neighbor; or having a picture of your home on your phone to remind you why you are making such a long commute.

What brief positive daily interaction can you add on your way to/from your job? Ask your local barista how their day is going; strike up a conversation with someone sitting next to you on the subway; thank your bus driver for the safe and pleasant ride.

Where can you add five to 10 minutes of “nature bathing” during your day? Pause to sit outside before walking into your office; try a walking meeting; read that work report under a tree instead of in front of your screen.

2. Smørrebrød

The ubiquitous Danish open-faced sandwich represents more than just a delicious lunch. It speaks to the country’s work culture. Open-faced sandwiches don’t come in silver wrappers tossed into to-go bags. Eaten on plates, with utensils, preferably at a table with friends, the Smørrebrød means taking time away from the office, slowing down, and reconnecting with yourself. How often do you feel connected to yourself during the workday?

What is getting in your way of finding your own version of a Smørrebrød? Drink your morning coffee while notchecking your phone; boldly tell your colleagues that you are taking your lunch outside the office; leave work early (or, as a baby step, on time), and then commit to not checking your work email on your phone until the next morning.

Next, close your eyes and do a quick gut check about your work: Is this aligned with who you really are? A core question that I always ask my clients is not “What do you want to do with your life?” but rather, “How do you want to be in your life?” Are your work tasks, job, and career path deeply connected to the person you want to be in life? I know that, if my full-time job as the director of a graduate career center didn’t involve students who want to save the world, a boss who trusts me implicitly, and colleagues who really care, then this role would not align to my authentic way of being.

3. Comfy Shoes

During my time in Denmark, I never saw a woman in high heels. In fact, I don’t remember seeing a man in a formal suit or a woman in a too-tight outfit. Maybe this has to do with the fact that they ride their bikes everywhere (I once made the mistake of wearing a tight skirt while biking to work and will not be repeating that near-flashing episode again), but I think this has more to do with the Danish attitude of what it means to have a comfortable life.

A heart-checking question I ask clients is, “Since it’s not about the job you want and the career you aspire to, but about the life you desire, are you making decisions to support this comfortable, happy life?” I have turned down several job offers that came with grander titles and pay raises (which research has consistently shown to have minimal effect on long-term happiness) to ensure that I have a flexible schedule so I can continue to do career coaching, which lights up my heart, and spend time with friends and family, which brings me tremendous joy. Instead of figuring out what your career ambition is, ask yourself what a comfortable life means to you.

During my blissful 18-day vacation throughout Scandinavia, I slowed down every day not only to eat kanelstang, but also to try kanelbuller, kanelboller, and kanelihappoa (the Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish versions) and gained delicious insight into what I want in my career and life. Since moving to Copenhagen is unfortunately not an option for me, I’m exploring how to bring more of this connection focused, free feeling, and comfy orientation to my life here and now.

I read Ariana Huffington’s book Thrive on vacation and this quote that she includes from Iain Thomas has lingered in my heart:

And every day, the world will drag you by the hand yelling, “This is important! And this is important! And this is important! You need to worry about this! And this! And this!” And each day, it’s up to you to yank your hand back, put it on your heart and say, “No. This is what’s important.”

Denise Riebman is a career development specialist who applies a strength-based, positive psychology framework toward inspiring individuals to find career happiness. She is Director of Career Development and Alumni Services at George Washington University’s Trachtenberg School, and founder of Denise holds a Certificate in Positive Psychology and additional certification from Global Career Development Facilitation, Presence-Based Coaching, and The Coaches Institute.