My first book review. Danish Happiness/Lykke

You may have all heard that Denmark is one of the happiest countries on earth. The truth is that even if happiness is very subjective, the nordic country I call home has topped the World Happiness Report rankings for many years. In the last couple of years, Denmark has fallen short to its neighbor Finland but still ranks very high every year. You can read last year's report on this link.

Danes are so proud of it that they have even created a think tank called Happiness Research Institute. It was founded by the author of the book that I will talk about today. His name is Meik Wiking and his book is "The little book of Lykke. The Danish search for the world's happiest people". I have read this book during the quarantine to understand what makes my new country one of the happiest in the world. To tell you the truth I didn't need to read the book to learn some of the staff that is written on it because I am lucky to live here, in "Happyland".

I have never written a book review so I am not really sure how to do this but let me try. The book focuses on the fact that happiness is something overall and not a feeling that you feel at a certain moment of time. For example, I am satisfied and happy with my life but now I am quite pissed off with the fact that the corona crisis won't allow me to see my family during easter. Even if I am angry at a specific situation I am overall happy. The author analyses the six factors that he believes make people happy and he tries to exemplify how Danes boost their happiness mastering these 6 factors. Obviously, Denmark is not the perfect country and the book also mentions things that other cultures and nations do to be happy but I will try to focus on Denmark because this blog is about it. I will also try to add personal experiences that can be related to the six happiness factors.

The first factor is togetherness. Happiness experts believe that we are generally happier with our lives if we can rely on our friends (95.5 % of Danes), if we eat together, if we have common goals and purposes and if we happily pay taxes. Denmark is known for being a country with a strong social network that helps you when you are in need. Danes are proud of contributing to their fellow citizens and that makes them be happier than other peoples of the earth. Researchers also say that we experience more happiness when we share our personal problems with friends and relatives or when we know our neighbors personally.

The second factor is money. This is one of the most controversial issues regarding happiness. People all around the world constantly ask themselves: Does money bring happiness? The short and scientific answer would be: "Yes and No". Evidence shows that countries with higher GDP per capita tend to have happier people but this is not a scientific rule and it does not mean that being a millionaire will make you have a better life than your standard fellow countryman. The reason why people are happy when their country has a relatively high GDP is that they have their needs covered. In Denmark, school up to university is free as well as public health. (Besides nothing is free and they pay it via taxes) This makes Danes have very good standards of life and allows them to focus on other things besides survival. Data shows that Danes have low expectations of life and this is what makes them feel good about it. There are countries like South Korea and the USA, where GDP/capita is comparable to the danish one, that have much unhappier inhabitants. The reasons are many but high expectations and comparison to other people are some of them. Denmark is one of the countries with lower inequality besides having a high GDP and that explains why people don't compare themselves that much. My personal experience is that the Danish state has allowed me to study in the country for free while I earn a lot of money from a scholarship because I work and study here. This has definitely made my life and my adaptation easier and is probably one of the reasons why I am so happy in Denmark.

The third factor is health. We can always get positive things out of crisis and the COVID19 is not an exception. I am sure we give more value to health than what we used to some weeks ago. It is obvious why having good health care contributes to having happier people. Denmark has a quality healthcare system and one of the highest life expectancies in the world (80.6 years). I wrote about it in a previous post so you should already know that biking is one of the most popular activities in Denmark. Both for transport and for practicing sport. The fact that many Danes use their bikes to go to work every day boosts their mood. Studies show that short commutes and avoiding traffic jams make people happier overall. That is the case of Denmark. Research also shows that being in contact with nature frequently contributes to a happier life and Danes have many places to enjoy it in their multiple forests, lakes, beaches, and farms.

The fourth factor is freedom. This includes civil rights like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or political freedom that of course, Denmark enjoys. The country ranks 7th in the latest Democracy Index that measures pluralism, civil liberties, and political culture. Not only Denmark is politically free but it is also a very liberal country regarding LGTB rights. You can't really be happy if you can't marry the person you love right? There are also other types of freedom that we might not think about so frequently. Do you have time to do what you really enjoy or you only have time to work, commute, cook and take care of your kids? Danes on average have more time for themselves because they have a great work-life balance. There is a lot of flexibility at work and there are a lot of policies thought to make parenting easier and less stressful. One of the policies is a parental leave of 52 weeks that can be shared between both progenitors. This gives parents time to raise their kids properly and is one of the reasons why the happiness parental gap (the happiness drop that parents experience in the medium term) is not that big in Denmark. The fact that it can be distributed between the mother and the father promotes gender equality.

The fifth factor is trust. Experts believe that if you can trust your friends and also strangers it is more likely that you have an overall good life. Denmark is the OEC country where more people express their high trust in others with 89 %. An experiment that took place in 1996 showed that Danes can trust each other. 12 wallets full of money (50 dollars in local currency) were dropped on the streets and the researchers counted how many were returned. This was done in different cities to compare the response of different societies. Denmark and Norway were the only places were ALL wallets were returned while other cities like Madrid (2/12) or Berlin (6/12) had poorer results. This simple experiment shows how much can Danes trust their fellow citizens. Trust is also that Danes try to teach their kids. The danish education system not only focuses on academic skills such as maths or science but also on empathy and well-being. Their system is thought to enhance cooperation rather than competition. This is one of the reasons why developed countries like South Korea suffer from high rates of depression even if living standards are comparable to those in Denmark. Exams in South Korea are very tough and everyone compares his or her grades to those of fellow classmates and friends. That is not the way that Danes are trying to do things and this definitely helps shape happier citizens.

The sixth and last factor for the book according to the book is kindness. People usually get confused and believe that Danes have to be very kind because they say they are the happiest people. But the fact is that this is a contradiction to one of the typical stereotypes about nordic people. I always heard that Nordics were more distant than Mediterraneans like myself. Some researchers believe that this factor is the only that Danes are missing to excel but research also shows that Copenhagen is the second city in the world (after Málaga, Spain) were more people can be found smiling while on the street. My personal opinion is that Danes are very friendly to you once you get to know them but they are not as kind to strangers. It is pretty obvious why being kind helps people be happy. It is nice to see that people care about you and that people help you in an altruistic way. Denmark does not perform better than other nations in the parameter called "willingness to help a stranger" so maybe it is true that kindness is what they are missing to do even better.

I hope that you were inspired by this short review of the book and that you read it. You can find it in many danish book stores but also online. If you live close to me you can borrow mine ( I am following one of the happiness tips I read in the book). Be happy!


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