Disclaimer: This blog post is based on my own observations, and not on any formal surveys or anything.
When I was thinking about where to study abroad, my advisor advocated for Denmark, because it’s the happiest place in the world (according to some measurements)!
Why, why, WHY would the happiest country on Earth be someplace so cold and dark? And EXPENSIVE?? Well, that’s what I wanted to find out. Here’s part one of my analysis of the Danes…
1. Priorities. Danes have their priorities straight. The lives of most Americans revolve around work, but this is not so in Denmark. For example, my host dad is always home before I get back from class. He’s a doctor, and makes good money, but isn’t working all day! He works as much as he needs to, and then relaxes. It seems like Danes have at least a little relaxing time every day, which is so different from the U.S. I have had so, so many packed days at home when I haven’t had a moment to myself other than the minutes before I fall asleep at night.
2. Homogeneity. To my fellow Americans, this may seem like a strange contributor to happiness (it seems weird to me as well!), but it seems pretty true. Homogeneity makes the Danes very happy. Denmark is a pretty homogenous country, full of people who are more or less completely Danish, with a small immigrant population. The sameness of Denmark means that everyone generally looks the same, buys the same stuff, and has the same goals. It means that the country is safe, and that parents feel comfortable enough leaving their babies outside when they go shopping or out to coffee/dinner (Seriously! It’s a totally normal thing here!) It also means that the welfare state can function smoothly. When the country is full of Danes who all value hard work, the welfare state can collect and distribute funds fairly. The Danes feel threatened by immigrants who they feel are coming to the country to take advantage of the system and consume what the Danes have worked for. The homogeneity, reinforced by the welfare state, creates a level playing field for Danish citizens. Everyone is equal, and it’s not socially acceptable to brag or to place yourself above others in any way in Denmark. Danes don’t have the American mentality of working hard to get places; rather, they are satisfied with where they are and understand that they will achieve pretty much the same as everyone else… no pressure.
There are other probable contributors that I don’t have time to go into right now, but these two reasons are a huge start, especially the homogeneity, as the priorities part is kind of a part of that… because Danes want the same things, they have the same priorities and all agree that work isn’t the end-all in life. To make an analogy, it would be like when an exam is graded on a curve and the students all agree that they’re not going to stress about it, and just see what happens. That’s not to say that Danes aren’t hard workers, though. I’m not sure about this. They definitely don’t put in as many hours as their American counterparts, but hey, quality over quantity maybe??
Honestly, I don’t even know if I can agree that Denmark is happier than America. The concept of happiness in Denmark is just different than it is in the U.S. Many Americans would be extremely unhappy in Denmark, as the way of thinking is a bit different.
When thinking seriously about Danish happiness, the most important factor is homogeneity. That’s why the Danes are all freaking out about the immigrants. They have this established way of life, and they want to maintain their own culture without having to worry about others. This wouldn’t make everyone happy, but it works for the Danes, so good for them! As for me, while I love living in Copenhagen, observing the Danes has also made me so proud to be an American and everything that stands for.