The Danes are probably tired of foreigners referring to them as the happiest people in the world. Actually, not everyone in this country is aware that they are known for this abroad. But it is true, they have topped the lists in world happiness reports, starting from a 2013 survey by the University of Leicester (UK). Factors such as quality of life, endless state services (healthcare and childcare for instance) and one of the lowest wealth gaps rates in the world have contributed to giving the Danes this reputation outside their small, scarcely populated country.
And what is interesting here, is how people outside the Scandinavian bubble find it hard, if not impossible, to understand how a country which is dark in the winter, cold most of the year and where the people are not famous for their social skills, live as the world’s happiest citizens.
A number of books, articles and documentaries have been released on this, mostly due to the lack of knowledge of people living outside the nordic countries. Because of the unfriendly weather conditions and the sky high prices, Denmark, Norway and Sweden usually do not attract a huge number of tourists and their culture remains quite unknown outside the countries’ borders.
After restlessly visiting Scandinavian countries in the past two years and living in Denmark for almost two months now, I am starting to understand what lies beneath the whole “happiest people on earth” attribute. This does not imply that Danes smile all day, laugh at anything you say and have a positive attitude towards everything. As these may as well be consequences of a happy life state, we have to look into it more in depth.
Let me give you a few examples. Danes are proud to be the highest tax payers in the world. Yes, an average Danish employee gives 50% of its salary to the state and any politician mentioning lower taxes is portrayed as a traitor of one of the world’s most successful welfare state systems.
Free education and student grants are one of the many reasons why even the younger generations are keen on keeping this system going. While a student in a British institution is forced to pay £9000 per year for higher education, Danish students not only get it completely for free, but on top of that receive the amazing amount of 5000 DKK per month (yes, that is £500/€670) as a generous grant. This means that, unless they ask for further loans, they don’t owe a single penny (or kroner) to the state once they graduate. This allows them to move out of their parents’ house as soon as they finish high school, to be financially independent and not worry about asking their parents for money every single month. Usually, Danes also find part-time jobs during their studies, which are paid incredibly well as that the minimum wage is 100 DKK per hour (£10/€13). When working on a university assignment focussed on the ways in which young people living in Aarhus are concerned about their future, the Danes turned out to be the ones who were worried the least. I dare you to find an easier way for long term happiness than not having to worry about money and finding a job. Ask a mediterranean and they will tell you exactly what it feels like to be jobless, with no money and living at home for many years after graduating from high school. A Danish student I interviewed yesterday was so surprised when I told him that as a student, I receive no money from the Italian government. “Nothing at all?! Wow, then I guess we really are pretty privileged here!” he said. I answered that as they get free money, all we get is 45% youth unemployment.
However, the benefits don’t stop here. Free health care, for example, is another service. During one of my Danish language classes (also a free government service), I have learnt that an average Dane visits the doctor 11 times a year (which is almost once a month), simply because they have it completely for free (or just pay it indirectly through their taxes). Child care is also a great feature of this society, which allows young couples to marry early and raise a kid without many worries. It’s not hard to see young dads with strollers (because equality is one of the main features of this society) and playing with their kids in parks. Also, if you were wondering, the whole story of Danes leaving strollers with their babies outside a store unattended is very much true, as crime rates are exceptionally low in this part of the world.
I am indeed not saying society is perfect here. It has its flaws too, but the more I live here and observe it, the more I understand how privileged Danes are. So if you don’t mind an average spring day with cold sunshine (if you’re lucky) and temperatures not going above 4°C, it is a great country to live and work in and possibly start a family. On the plus side, people are so incredibly good looking here that finding your perfect-looking husband or wife is not that hard – trust me.
So do plan a holiday here and experience this beautiful country and you will discover so many aspects of its incredible culture which unfortunately are quite unknown in other parts of the world. Whether its for simple eye-candy or a weekend escape (or both), I would recommend Denmark as an option for your next journey.
I am very happy to be working this summer as a barista during the NorthSide festival in Aarhus, which includes acts like Sam Smith and George Ezra; and in just a week I’ll be heading to Greece together with four classmates for one of the biggest journalistic projects for the course I am on. We will be heading to Athens for a week, then enjoying the beautiful islands of Rhodes and Santorini for the second week.
Hej Hej fra Danmark!