Lessons from the Happiest Nation on Earth.

Via Leigha Butler
on Jun 22, 2010
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House in Denmark.

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



About Leigha Butler

Leigha Butler writes about yoga, happiness and sustainability here and at Willows Wept Review. She teaches Vinyasa yoga and English lit in New York's Hudson Valley and holds a master's in Literature & Environment from the University of Nevada, Reno. Find her on Twitter, or via email.


12 Responses to “Lessons from the Happiest Nation on Earth.”

  1. i wanna move to Denmark!

  2. I like the video. Kinda funny.

  3. Leigha says:

    Re: moving to Denmark. I know! I imagine disembarking from the plane and finding a whole country of people smiling and nodding with approval. It's wild that they've maintained their #1 rank for so long.

  4. Sharon says:

    I live in Albany, NY and just got back from a visit to Denmark – LOVED IT!

  5. Chris Chopik says:

    Denmark – accepting who they are and accepting their accomplishments.

    Reminds me of Travelling in Thailand.


    With reasonable expectations, easy accomplishments, better brain chemistry.

    Great conversation!

  6. Aurora says:

    1. Long haired blond student is HOTTIE in the video.
    2. How does the law of attraction play into this philosophy?

  7. Leigha Butler says:

    1. Agreed.
    2. My guess is that it has more to do with the concept of letting go, which is incidentally related to the yogic concept of aparigraha, or non-hoarding. It works like this: Stop all that yearning and desiring; assume that the world will give you at least what you need; then be pleasantly surprised when it delivers more than the bare minimum.

  8. Jennifer says:

    Isn't Denmark close to Holland… I BET they are happy….

  9. Kevin says:

    Yes, apart from a chunk of Germany between them. Lower Saxony, Schleswig Holstein. Or the North Sea. Mind you, there is the Christiana district in Copenhagen, which in many ways is what people wish Amsterdam was like.

  10. neil g says:

    Where does all of of this money come from to pay for school, childcare, elder care to keep this homogeneous country so happy…..oh yeah, 200 years of slave trading.

    P.S. the pursuit is what spoils the happiness.

  11. Scott says:

    This is a gem to share! There is so much to learn from other points of view! This article and video was like a trip to Denmark 🙂

  12. […] is valuable. It is an expression and a conversation about being alive on earth, particularly as human beings, and how strange, bewildering and achingly beautiful this whole play […]