Denmark ranks as the happiest country in the world according to the United Nations. Here's why.
Watch the video and answer the questions below.
1. How many people live in Denmark?
2. How often does it rain?
3. What does Denmark have that US doesn’t?
4. What does the welfare state focus on?
5. How much tax do Danes pay?
6. What do the Danes understand by social democracy?
7. What health problems are mentioned?
8. What aspect of the Danish lifestyle is the most important for the Honours?
9. What does Hygge encourage people to do?
10. What does the law of Jante involve?
11. What have the Honours learnt after living in Denmark for several years?
When you picture the happiest place in the world, you might imagine white-sand beaches and swaying palm trees. But it turns out, the happiest place is a bit different. Welcome to Denmark, a small country of nearly six million people. No tropical beaches here, just rain for about 50% of the year. But despite the weather, this country still maintains a sunny disposition, so sunny, in fact, it’s been named the happiest country in the world.
What we find when we study happiness around the world is that the definition is quite similar.
Jeffrey Sachs is an author of the United Nations’ World Happiness Report, which ranks the happiness of 156 countries, and consistently places Denmark at or near the top of the list.
People want to live well. They want to have money in their pocket and in the bank. They want to trust their government. They want to be healthy.
Last year, America came in 13th place, behind Israel, and just a few notches ahead of Mexico and Brazil. It’s a ranking that might leave us scratching our heads. Americans love to chant, ‘We’re Number One!’ but we aren’t always. What does Denmark have that we don’t?
Free healthcare, free education. What about maternity leave?
I think it’s 12 months [Paid?] in which the parents can share five weeks of paid vacation per year. It’s not bad.
It’s not bad?
Meik Wiking is the CEO of the Happiness Institute, located in Copenhagen.
How can we be as happy as you guys?
If there are to be one reason is the welfare state. It is focusing on reducing extreme unhappiness, and investing in public goods that create quality of life for all.
But this comes at a steep cost. Danes pay more income tax than any other nationality, as much as 60%.
If you asks Danes, Are you happily paying your tax? Eight out of ten will say, Yes, to some degree I’m happily paying my tax. And I think that’s because people are aware of the huge benefits they get in terms of quality of life.
Geoffrey Sachs says there are other benefits, too, like the fact that Denmark has one of the highest income equality and lowest poverty rates of any Western nation.
Basically, social mobility is high because the obstacles are very, very low. You’re really given the basics for a good, healthy, productive life.
What do you say to someone who’s like, Yeah, but that’s socialism and we’re Americans?
I say it’s what they call social democracy. The idea, is, we’re a market economy, we’re privately owned, we better compete, so they have to be at the top of the game in technology, in research and development, in science, in quality of education.
While Denmark excels in these areas, not everyone would call it a utopia.
Danish people don’t strike me as cheerful, so much as just, like, content, everything’s fine.
You can say, we are the happiest country in the world, I like to say, we’re the least unhappy.
Danes still face the same struggles as everyone else. The country has the highest cancer rate in the world, in part due to its smoking and drinking habits. Large portions of the population also suffer from alcoholism and depression.
Still, that hasn’t kept Americans like Dina Honour from moving here.
What surprised you the most about living in Denmark?
How much we like it.
Originally from Boston, she moved to Copenhagen in 2011 with her British husband Richard and their two sons. They liked it so much, they decided to stay.
And sometimes you got to find just the right piece to make it work, right.
Family life balance has been phenomenally better than it would be back in the U.S. The Danes, they leave work at five o’clock and they’re home for dinner, you know, by 5:30, so Richard is home for dinner every single night. We both agree that it’s probably the best decision that we’ve made as a family.
The family has adopted two uniquely Danish philosophies, that they say keep Danes smiling a bit more than the rest of us.
Hygge encourages people to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
There’s no real translation into English. It’s a Danish phenomenon. It’s a Danish thing. For quite a large part of the year, it gets quite grey here, gets dark very early in the afternoon. And hygge, this sense of bringing light and warmth and friendship into a house, it’s trying to make things cozy and happy.
The second uniquely Danish term is something called The Law of Jante. For Danes, that means living simply. Showing off wealth just isn’t their style.
It seems like in order for America to borrow from this Danish notion of happiness, Americans would have to give up things that are so prized, like exceptionalism and competitiveness.
Yeah, I struggle with that myself. I think maybe we just need to focus a little bit more on helping others and taking others into consideration. And I don’t think that means abandoning the idea of the individual. I think it just means finding a little bit more of a balance.
It’s a philosophy that’s even mentioned on the government’s website, which says money is not as important as the social life here. So maybe the elusive secret to happiness isn’t that much of a secret after all.
Philosophers have been telling us for millennia, Don’t just chase the money. They’re right. America’s gotten richer, a lot richer, over the last 50 years. But we’ve not gotten happier.
It’s worth pondering how we Americans can get our hygge on.
We have learned to take each day as it comes a little bit more and to not always be thinking about what’s next, what’s next, what’s next. I think career-wise, family-wise, school-wise…
Maybe we’re more Danish than we think!
Maybe, maybe, you know.
1 Six million
2 50% of the year
3 Free healthcare, free education, 12 months’ maternity leave
4 reducing extreme unhappiness, and investing in public goods that create quality of life for all
6 The idea that Denmark is a market economy but it also has income equality and low poverty rates
7 Denmark has the highest cancer rate in the world, in part due to its smoking and drinking habits, and large portions of the population also suffer from alcoholism and depression.
8 Family life balance
9 Enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
10 living simply, without showing off wealth
11 to take each day as it comes and to not always be thinking about what’s next