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Lessons in Happiness from Denmark

March 19, 2020

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Every year, the United Nations publishes the World Happiness Report, where countries are ranked from lowest to highest with the lowest being the most unhappy, and the highest being happiest. Scandinavian countries are always somewhere towards the top of the list, with Finland and Denmark scrambling for the top spot.

What makes people in these countries are so happy?

This question has led to some robust discussions, not only on the floor of the United Nations but also around the world. It has been speculated that government policy, including extended paid parental leave and heavily subsidised education, play a part. Still, when you dig below the surface it ends up that happiness in Denmark is a cultural norm.

They Trust Other People

A study showed that 79% of Danes trust most of the people they meet. This is interesting because it is at odds with many of the world’s unhappiest countries where levels of trust are disproportionately low. Danes are more likely to leave their bike leaning against a wall while getting a coffee, or leave their house unlocked.

Having faith in others, because you are trustworthy is an important factor in Danish life.

Ambition Is Not a Merit

In many countries, being ambitious is seen as a positive trait. Climbing the corporate ladder, sacrificing home life for more money or striving to get a bigger house are all indicators of “success.” In Denmark, however, stumbling clumsily towards materialistic gain is not seen as a good thing. Statistically, Danes want to do a job that they enjoy. This is one of the many reasons that creative industries such as architecture and are so prevalent and successful. Most importantly, people end up doing what they love, rather than what will help them buy “things.” Much of this probably has to do with…

Minimalism is Stylish

Generally, Danes will live in smaller houses or apartments, with scant furnishings. This has less to do with economic factors than with what is and isn’t seen as being stylish. To over-decorate in Denmark is seen as being wasteful, excessive and even garish. After all, why use many things, when a single thing will do the same job.

The Village Mentality

Despite being a friendly country, Denmark is notoriously difficult for foreigners to integrate into. People form close-knit bonds within their own groups and their interactions are as part of a larger village. These groups go cycling together, socialise together and their children will most likely grow up together. As a result, they feel that they are part of something bigger than themselves, and have a family-like security blanket in place should there be the need for it.

They Move – A Lot

People in Denmark get a lot of exercise. Whether it’s cycling, walking or running with friends, the Danes love to get their body moving. However, unlike many other countries, Danes tend to exercise for pure enjoyment rather than a physical outcome. In other words, they move because they love to move, not because exercise is an obligation or a requirement to feel better about themselves.


According to Wikipedia, the Danish word Hygge is a “word for a mood of cosiness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment.” It’s a cultural norm in Denmark and has become incredibly popular as a philosophy around the world. It means to feel homely, cosy and safe without concerns or stress.

If you’re interested in learning more about Hygge, there are numerous books and websites dedicated to it, but all you really need to know is this – get comfortable, pull on some track pants (called Hyggebukser (yes, really) and grab a good book.

They Are Balanced

The Danish culture doesn’t operate in terms of “boom and bust.” Crash diets, rigorous exercise routines, and sacrificing what you enjoy for your health are not strategies in Denmark.

They will eat a piece of cake, and enjoy the 20-minute walk home and have a single glass of wine with dinner and cycle to work the next morning. This attitude of accidental balance means being physically healthy isn’t about sacrifice, because it’s ingrained in their lifestyle.

Of course, there are limitless facets to the happiness of the people of Denmark. But no one will be less happy with a little bit of exercise, trust and Hygge in their lives.          

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