How does a country riddled with bitter winters, sky-high taxes and a misguided love of salted liquorice hold a position as one of the world’s happiest?
The Danish paradox – months of dark weather, yet chipper people – is often ascribed to things like 2016’s buzzword, hygge, plus an eye for design and style and killer television. But away from candles, Copenhagen street style and The Bridge is another biggie. Trust.
A key reason as to why the nation is always around the top of The World Happiness Index (second in 2016, first the year before), total faith in each other as citizens and in the state to look after you if things go wrong is a cornerstone of Danish life.
Arguably, the Scandi state’s welfare system creates a deep sense of contentment in citizens. Driven by policies implemented by the country’s biggest political party, Socialdemokratiet, things like free education, great parental rights and financial help if you fall on hard times means less to fret over. (Data backs this up – studies show that more equal societies are better for everyone, as inequality looks to be positively associated with crime). It also means the country is a place where start-up business and entrepreneurs thrive, meaning more chance to chase your passion, rather than a pay cheque.
From the security this allows, to fresh air and work-life balance, here are all the reasons our Nordic neighbours nail the good life.
Knowing that both the state and the people around you have got your back is key to a content society. Self-service fruit and veg stands litter rural Denmark, as farmers and growers trust people to leave the money, while leaving your baby outside in their pram while you pop into the shops is as normal there as it would be unthinkable here.
Later in life, the country’s notorious ‘flexicurity’ policy, which makes hiring and firing easy for employers, while providing high unemployment benefits of up to 90 per cent of earnings for the lowest paid means an active job market that encourages growth, while ensuring that citizens aren’t left in a bad position if your company gets in trouble.
“We have a society that is built on trust,” explains a Dane in a new video on the theme made by Socialdemokratiet. Seeking to investigate whether the Danes are as trusting as they used to be in the modern world of 2017, it’s a fascinating look into staying united as the world gets more divided. Check it out below (and remember to pop on the subtitles, by hitting ‘settings,’ more settings’ and switching ‘always show captions’ to ‘on.’ Unless you can read Danish, in which case: we’re impressed.)
2. Equality and work-life balance
According to this year’s OECD Better Life Report, the Danes had a better work-life balance than any other country surveyed, with only two per cent of employees regularly working long hours. With 8am – 4pm being the average working day, Danes have more hours to spend with loved ones, pursuing hobbies and being active. Policies like parental leave that can be split between mothers and fathers and a childcare policy in which the state picks up 75 per cent of the tab to send your baby to a high-quality nurser means that 85 per cent of mothers returning to work.
3. Getting outside
Fresh air isn’t something the Danes wait for summer to enjoy. From the commute (in Copenhagen, you’ll find more bikes than inhabitants, with 50 per cent of citizens cycling to work daily) to ‘forest nurseries’ which teach pre-school kids about the natural world, it’s muddled up in the everyday.
4. Being kind to yourself
Danes don’t do the denial/binge cycle that we in the UK battle with. Instead, they get that everything in moderation works – combining a weekend hike with a pastry or three. As British journalist Helen Russell, who moved to rural Jutland in 2013 reveals in her book ‘The Year Of Living Danishly,’ the not-so-secret secret is to indulge now and then, stay active and keep your rest and family time sacred. Basically, stop endlessly chasing work or going on punishing January diets and you’ll feel better.
5. Make every home beautiful
We’re almost embarrassingly influenced by Danish design: clean lines, minimal clutter, white space and artfully placed house plants. And, while you could criticise Danes for uniformity, you can’t deny it’s a strong look. Brands like by Lassen and Muuto are a good place to start if you want to channel the vibe. Remember: it’s an investment – according to scientists at UCL, looking at something beautiful can give you a happy feeling akin to gazing at someone you love.