Under Reykjavik’s Skies

• Dispatch #13 •

My favorite memories of Iceland are of its glorious skies.

More than the things I could see on the land itself, it was the sky of Iceland that always put a smile on my face each time I remembered my visit.

I booked a ticket to Reykjavik over the holiday break during my first year of graduate school. One reason was to escape the brutal winter of New York City (ironically, Iceland was warmer at that time), and another was to search for 100 people who would draw me their happiness for this project. I loved the glaciers, the people, the chocolate-flavored skyr, and the local coffee shop that flourished because there was gloriously not a Starbucks in sight. But one thing that was free to enjoy was the sky.

The sky over Reykjavik, especially on this particular morning—for the sun came out late—was simply one of the best things I had ever seen. The blueness made it look as though I was inside a marble. I didn’t need an aurora borealis that day; for a jaded New Yorker, this was more than enough.

The colors of Reykjavik
The colors of Reykjavik

I loved walking the city streets, even during the extremely windy days when a person could fly like a Mary Poppins trainee. During those times, I would seek shelter at the nearest shop or restaurant, and a local would smile in sympathy. We were all in this together.

Why was this one of the happiest countries in the world? I didn’t find the people to be hysterically excited, but I did see some things in the cities that elicited a feeling of well being in me, not the least of which was this amazing traffic light that had faces on it.

Emotional design
Emotional design

The swans and ducks on the lake also made me stop and watch them swim. Perhaps this is where Bjork got inspired to wear that swan dress? The buildings across the lake cast colored rays of light on the water, making the water gleam as though a disco ball was about to surface. There was space to breathe and imagine in this capital city.

Swans and ducks on the water.

I usually associate beautiful sunsets in my native Philippines, but Iceland gave me fantastic ones to marvel at, too. The skies turned into layers of orange, pink, and violet, as though there was a giant paintbrush streaking color onto the clouds.

A pink watercolor sunset

During my research on happiness, I consistently saw Icelanders as one of the happiest people in the world. Among the slew of reasons that the happiness research trend has given, one of the most obvious ones is their existence among beautiful sights in nature, both on the ground and up in the sky.

The sun sets over Reykjavik.

I also noticed one thing as I was writing this essay—I could comment on the sky precisely because I could, well, see it. In other cities, my eyes met the windows of another generic condominium building. Here, I could see an aurora borealis. It’s not a difficult decision to choose which one was the preferable view. I was more connected with nature and thus could identify myself as an inhabitant of an amazing planet, rather than feel claustrophobic in a congested city.

Reykjavik view
Not a skyscraper in sight.

I learned something in Iceland: when your eyes are weary of what you see, just look up.


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