COPENHAGEN: Why is Denmark considered the happiest country in the world?

Why is Denmark considered the happiest country in the world?

Perhaps it is because there is a strong social fabric, a result of their homogenous society.

The criteria for the report on happiness includes factors such as health and access to health care, family relations, job security, political freedom, and government corruption. Since Denmark is a welfare state, it scored high in all of these factors.

However, I think that being ranked the happiest country in the world would not be possible without the Danes simply having low expectations and sharing so many cultural similarities.

I imagine it’s easier to run the Denmark as a welfare state when the majority of the people here have the same appearance, culture, and ideals.

At a party someone once screamed to me, “Do you know the biggest difference between Denmark and America?”

I said, “Yes, Danes are often seen as shy, boring and racist. Americans are often too loud, too open about their lives, and eat poorly.” 

He did not like that response at all. I thought I gave quite a playful response considering I had no idea who he was and we were at a social event. You don’t just go up to someone you don’t know to have a serious conversation about politics at a party. Right? 

In response, he screamed, “No it’s simple, we care about our people and you don’t! If I saw someone suffering on the streets I would treat him like my own and help him out!” 

I took this to mean if he saw another Danish-looking person on the street, it is his “job” to care for them because they are the same.  I also think he underestimates the difference between the United States and Denmark. More people live in Manhattan than live in Denmark. Obviously it is easier to care for all of the Danes rather than all of the Americans.  

I think I should mention the Jante Law, something that can help describe where the homogenous mentality stems from. This law or concept basically states that no person is better than another in Scandinavia. It was introduced by a Dano-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose in the novel, En Flyktning Krysser Sitt Spor (A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks). The novel describes the ten specific rules of the Jante Law:

1. Don’t think you’re anything special.

2. Don’t think you’re as good as us.

3. Don’t think you’re smarter than us.

4. Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than us.

5. Don’t think you know more than us.

6. Don’t think you are more important than us.

7. Don’t think you are good at anything.

8. Don’t laugh at us.

8. Don’t think anyone cares about you.

10. Don’t think you can teach us anything.  

I once read that there are people who are strongly opposed to the Jante Law. I’d love to meet them, if they haven’t already escaped to Berlin yet. I’m only slightly kidding.

Something like the Jante Law feels very foreign to me. I find that our generation is increasingly striving to be better than everyone else around them. Without this ambitious mentality, a happy future seems less promising. This could be due to the fact that most Americans associate happiness with money brought on by a successful career. Sometimes a young Dane’s future seems so easy to me: they are comfortable in knowing they will have a job, health care, and a strong social fabric binding them to their peers because they aren’t striving to be better and different from the crowd.

One more thing, even the fashion in Denmark has traces of Jante Law. Everyone wears the same thing. It’s usually a combination of all black and a pair of Nike’s. Every day. It feels like nobody really wants to stick out and that they are more interested in banding together.

If everyone is content with being the same and there is such a high quality of life due to the welfare system, how could Denmark not be the happiest country in the world?

Although I would love to have something like short work days, 5 full weeks of paid vacation, universal healthcare and education, I could never shake the high expectation mindset that comes with being an American.