Time after time, international polls show that the Danish are the happiest people Europe, usually slightly ahead of fellow Scandinavian countries. Danes are in the enviable position of not having much to worry about. After having seen the other 26 EU countries, I do have some ideas about how Danes can be happier than the others. But what do they themselves think about it?
Beside being one of the world`s happiest nations, Denmark coincidentally also scores very high on the list of richest nations. Many of today`s interviewees come up with the nation`s wealth as one of the reasons why the Danes are so happy. Still, is not money itself or the possession of it that seems to matter to them.
`There`s a lot of mediocity and dullness in Denmark`
Martin (32) agrees that Denmark is pretty content with itself. `We are modest people who do not have a lot to worry about. We are a bit isolated from a lot of negativity that is going on in the world. Denmark has many social structures that allow us to support members of society who have difficulties getting along. If anything could be improved in Denmark, I`d suggest something gets fixed about the weather. Also, it would be nice if the cost of living was a bit lower.`
Gry (25) doesn`t think that Danish people are that happy at all: `Life is fair in Denmark, but people still always want a little bit more. We are never really satisfied. We are not very good at taking criticism. I think the Spanish and Italians are a lot happier than we are. They are more positive, more open and they smile more. I hardly ever see anybody smile in a Danish street.`
Rikke (25) is a lot more satisfied about living in Denmark. She thinks that the Danes have so much security that they can use a lot of energy for looking at the bright side of life. `We plan for the future instead of burying ourselves in the past.` Anne (18) is a little more conservative. She wonders what Denmark would be like if the welfare system became unsustainable: `Right now, people are free in their choices. Not because they have sufficient cash, but because they know that they can always rely on a backup. Without that safety net, I think people would not feel so free and careless. It`s good to be confident, but being overconfident is a lot less helpful.`
Peter (26, photo) doubts whether the Danes are really as happy as research shows: `We have a high standard of living and we live in a relatively safe country. There are no immediate threats from other countries, from nature or from immigration. All of that provides people with plenty of reasons to be happy. Unfortunately, I think many Danes are happy because they don`t expect much of life. There`s a lot of mediocrity and dullness in Denmark. Many people settle for less than what they could potentially achieve.`
`Another downside of the perceived happiness of the Danes is the way people will try to protect it from outsiders. Denmark is not very keen on allowing immigrants in, especially when comparing us to neighbouring countries like Sweden and Denmark. It`s hard to defend that we talk about third-generation immigrants. That implies that somebody`s grandparents were originally from another country. From a cultural point of view, those people are probably entirely Danish, even though their appearance will still be different from the stereotypical blond, blue-eyed Dane. Unfortunately, a part of the force that unites Denmark is the way Danes look down on other countries. Indeed, they like travelling and discovering other places, but they will mostly do it at the mercy of arriving back home in Denmark at the end of their trips.`
Peter thinks that the Danish cycling tradition contributes to the nation`s happiness. `Cycling is a good way to slow down from the stress of daily life. It`s environmentally friendly, social and a bike won`t kill you if it hits you. Quite some young people in Copenhagen do not even care about obtaining a driver`s license. Beside all the psychological advantages, cycling is simply the quickest way to get across the city.`
Peter has no reasons to believe that Danes are more intelligent than others, nor do they lead healthier lives. I do think that we are well-educated. Many Danes enjoy the job they have. The generation before us had to settle for a job and then make sure they were happy about it. We pick the fruits of that and can do it the other way around. We are in the luxury position of being able to find interesting jobs right from the start.`
Maria (25) thinks that Denmark offers a lot of securities to its citizens, even in fields where they seem to be left to their own fate. `We have Flex-security`, she explains: `It`s very easy for Danish companies to fire people. But getting fired in Denmark is not the end of the world. If getting fired is easy but finding a new job is, too, then the end result is that you can be sure that things will turn out right. I was very surprised to learn about riots in France last year. People in France always want job safety, which to them means: the certainty to keep the job they have. In Denmark, job safety stands for: making sure that you will always be able to find a job. And even not finding one won`t be the end of the world: then there is the social welfare system that will take care of you.`
`I think our society is a lot more flexible than that of other countries. If you see the difference in how France deals with changes and how we do it, the difference tells a lot. I also think that securities have been integrated in a smart way. I know that I can always see a doctor if I need to. I spent more than 10 years in school without every paying anything. That makes it OK to pay high taxes later on in working life. The fact that everybody contributes to society is one of the biggest prides of our country. And also: the fact that people feel like they are in charge of their own destiny. There are very few reasons to think that a Dane who wants to achieve something ends up being unable to realise his project.`
Danish people do not have much more faith in their politicians than people from other countries do. They do trust that they will be treated in a fair way, even when they are dealing with strangers or with public authorities. According to Pia (19), Danes will treat others in the same way they would want others to treat them. In some other European countries, such an expression would reveal a sense of na?vity that is bound to be surpassed by reality. Pia believes that whatever she gives to others will somehow return to here. `Not always in the same way. Not always in the expected way, but there will be something coming back. Wealth in Denmark is quite evenly distributed anyway. There is enough for everybody, because everybody contributes. Few Danes are motivated to get rich. And if they are, they had better not show it off, because it will make them look silly. Being rich above all implies that you pay more taxes.`
Pia sees very few similarities between communism and the Danish model. `Communism is something we learn about in history books. Our society floats on capitalism`, she says, `except for the high taxes, but as long as they are used in a sensible way, the Danes are fine with those.`
Kathrin (19) thinks that Danes have a strong free will. `We don`t have strong links with religion, we don`t overpay tribute to any king, president or even law. Danes are realistic. They know what they can and cannot do.`
Nikolaj (21) thinks that teachers help a great deal in educating young Danes to be independent and self-supportive. He agrees that there is nothing negative about that, `except for the fact that it should be the parents who teach them that, not school.`
Another Nikolaj (also 21) praises the Danish sense of humour. `We laugh about things that other people would feel offended about. We can joke about religion, about politics, about people, about anything. Other countries and cultures are too easily offended. Our prime minister features in newspaper cartoons on an almost daily basis, and definitely not in the most flattering way. But instead of reprimanding the newspapers, he admits that he finds it all quite amusing. I think that one of the Danish virtues is the ability to step back and laugh at things. There`s no need to take life more serious than it is.` Nikolaj think that young Danes are good at `picking the day`: living life as it comes and taking one step at a time.
Line (29) wonders if the Danes are so happy because they drink more beer than anybody else. `I think we also have the highest number of cannabis users. Maybe that`s what makes people happy. Apart from that, we have a nice little country with a strong economy. People have problems and they complain a lot, but having problems without doing anything about them is not very well-perceived.`
Anders (27) thinks that very few people in Denmark have reasons to be unhappy about the country they live in. `We have a couple of left wing activist groups who disagree with everything that Danish politics decides on. But meet them outside of Denmark, and they will have their mouths full of how wonderful Denmark is, and how everything is so well-arranged.`
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