Westerners who seek the secret to a fulfilled life in other cultures are bound to be disappointed

A few years ago there was a brief mania for hygge, the Danish concept of domestic comfort. The theory seemed to be that Danes, with their knitted slippers, tea-light candles, and fireplaces, had discovered the secret to a better way of life. Multiple books emerged trying to teach us about the wonders of a hygge-filled existence.

Of course, an idea like hygge, which prioritizes comfort and home, is easier to achieve when one has a home. The deracinated professional class that pursues greater happiness via the self-help shelves is most likely to be found in rented apartments in overpriced cities, so naturally anything that offers security and rootedness is very appealing to its members.

This year, the Japanese way of life seems to have replaced hygge as rootless Americans’ go-to aspiration, at least judging by the best-seller lists. And while there’s plenty worth learning about Japanese culture, anyone looking for the secret to a meaningful life is bound to be disappointed.