Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Recipe for Happiness: Why Denmark?

Shakespeare did not get something about Denmark. This is a scientific proof that lack of intercultural competence may lead to falsification of data and confusion of millions of readers. Really, it is common knowledge that Hamlet was the biggest moaner and groaner in the history of humankind, and but for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern we would have not got a tinsiest glimpse of happy people in that Nordic country, unless you derive specific kind of morbid pleasure of killing your friends and marrying their wives (ibid.).

A couple of yours ago OECD published its report on the happiest country in the world, which left the world and the Danes themselves flabbergasted. Either it is eating herring (and then Holland coming third corroborates this hypothesis) or its geographical location, in a way distancing itself away from the European nucleus, but the fact is that Denmark is the happiest nation on Earth. The Danes are trying to explain it in their modest and unobtrusive way that "it sort of so happened, we are not to blame for the outcomes", the economists (who always know exact reasons of whatever problem) attribute the high happiness ratings to high taxes, and the politicians are trying to steal their piece of the cake by bringing in their achievement on providing free education and social care. While CBSnews is not something I would easily trust, Spiegel is a much more reliable authority, however... Who in their sane mind will be happy if they give away half of their earnings to the government? If you are happy, would you be unsure about it? There are many countries where education and medical care are free of charge for the population and still the prospects of even making it to the top 100 on the happiness list are bleak. It seems to me that the truth is somewhere in an altogether different place.

Geert Hofstede provides the following profile for Denmark:
Something is very interesting about this one. Apart from Individualism scale, all other three are very low (Hofstede has not produced the Long-Term Orientation dimension for Denmark... guess living in that cold is tough, so as soon as he was done with the first four, he figured out that enough was enough and was gone in a jiffy). For those who are not familiar with Hofstede cultural dimensions, I would recommend his book on cultures and organizations (yes, it was him who came up with the software metaphor!), and in the meantime, here is the shortcut:

    Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind
  • Power Distance Index (PDI) - low score indicates egalitarianism, approachability of leaders, strong democratic principles
  • Individualism (IDV) - as opposed to Collectivism - the degree to which people prefer to be integrated into groups
  • Masculinity (MAS) - as opposed to Femininity - which values a culture prefers (in Denmark's case, low MAS score means that it is a very Feminine culture)
  • Uncertainty Avoidance Index (UAI) - how important is it to call a spade a shovel. Denmark has a low score, which means that the Truth is relevant, it is OK not to dot the i's (or cross the t's for that matter)

In comparison, let's take a look at Germany, which did not enjoy particularly high ranking in the happiness survey:
Can we conclude that the shorter the power connections are, the more people are caring about each other and treat life as relative and accommodating for all, the happier they will be? Surely, we need to take into consideration certain political and economic aspects - stability, security, certain freedoms and guarantees are important and should not be ignored, irrespective of my cynicism earlier. What is definite is that it is not the amount of vitamin D that brings you happiness. Neither is it the climate or weather as the Danes are not the most sun-tanned country on the planet. The highest suicide rate in neighboring Finland genuinely complicates the situation.

There is something from the Spiegel research that I liked and it brings closer home the reasons why -
Some people attribute the prevailing attitude among Danes to something less tangible, called hygge (pronounced "hooga"). Danes say the word is difficult to translate -- and to comprehend -- but that it describes a cozy, convivial sentiment that involves strong family bonds. "The gist of it is that you don't have to do anything except let go," says Vial. "It's a combination of relaxing, eating, drinking, partying, spending time with family."
So it is the intangible, the "soft" that really matters? Whatever it is, it is not the American dream. The choice is yours.


  1. In order to understand the Danish society, one must be familiar with “Janteloven”, an unwritten law that Danes follow in their everyday life: “Don’t think you are better than us or that you are special”.
    If you do think that you are smarter than others, it’s unforgivable. If you are wealthy, then be discreet about it.
    As a result, Danes are not competitive at all; they don’t fight for being the first and the best. Life is comfortable and pleasant in this homogenous society where there is no obvious poverty, and no blatant wealth; where the majority of people share similar attitudes and values and have the same life style.
    Sounds boring for you? Try to imaging everlasting happiness. I bet you start yawning…

  2. I just think it is an amazing concept, which is difficult to comprehend in a Western society. What is apparent - we need to learn a lot from the Danish and the Janteloven. At the same time, I can't stop thinking about a movie I saw a couple of years ago - the Bothersome Man. Check it out if you have not seen it yet.

  3. Just found an interesting bit of information:

    In Denmark, more lives are lost in traffic accidents than in other Northern European countries (UK, Sweden, Norway) -

    And still happy...



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