June 22, 2010

Lessons from the Happiest Nation on Earth.

Happiness is… a modest life in Denmark, apparently.

“Don’t depend too much on the American Dream,” advises a Danish college student. “I think you might get disappointed.”

And one might do well to heed his remarks. The World Map of Happiness, produced by England’s Leicester University, names Denmark the happiest nation on earth, a rank the country has maintained for the last 30+ years. To what do the Danes attribute their happiness? Surprise, surprise. It seems the American bigger-is-better ethic is due for a downsizing.

Cultivating Modest Expectations

“Good enough,” could be a credo to live by. Danes aren’t less ambitious than Americans, but they don’t expect as much material wealth. A Dane isn’t likely to yen for a Beamer or a yacht. That way, when she does acquire something of monetary value, she’s surprised and pleased. On the other hand, when she loses it, she can shrug her shoulders and blame it on shit happening.

What Wealth Gap?

Thanks to a system of safety nets, there is virtually no wealth gap in Denmark. Education is free, and that includes college. Students who score well on entrance exams are even paid for their studies. The Danish government also provides childcare, healthcare and elder care at no cost to citizens.

The Cost of Happiness

A mid-level earner in Denmark can expect to pay roughly 50% of his income in taxes, which is sent to the pool that provides care and services for all Danes. This tax rate is less disturbing to Danes than it would be to Americans, perhaps because Danes espouse the “softer” values described below.

“Soft” Values

Ask a Dane what she likes to do in her free time, and she’ll likely offer a response fit for Chicken Soup for the Soul: spend quality time with family & friends; nurture relationships; participate in community; care for others. Haven’t we known intuitively that this is the stuff of happiness?

Time to Play

The average Dane takes six weeks of vacation. That’s 42 days. U.S. citizens? 13 days. What’s more, ask a Dane what he “does,” and he’ll tell you he skis or sails or plays the harpsichord. Ask an American the same question, and she’ll tell you she’s an accounts manager. Whose idea of a “Dream” is this anyway?

60 Minutes – On Happiness & Denmark

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