In various polls and surveys, Denmark often comes out on top (or thereabouts) as the happiest nation on Earth but what is it about this Northern European nation that makes its residents so contented with their lives?
The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership, a sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity. But how do you create that culture? Here we have a look.
1. Focus on The Family
Denmark has a massive focus on the family and this is shown in governance as well as just culture as Danish families receive a total of around 52 weeks maternal leave with the mother receiving around 18 weeks on full pay and the father getting 2 weeks of his own at the same rate whilst the rest of the time off can be used up as and when the family sees fit.
Beyond birth, Danish children receive free or very low-cost child care which frees up mothers to return to work meaning that, 79 percent of mothers return to their previous level of employment, compared to 59 percent of American women.
2. Healthcare Is A Civil Right
For one thing, the Danish healthcare system is a tax-funded state-run universal health care system that offers free treatment at the point of injury so insurance need not be a worry. Danish citizens expect and receive health care as a basic right and they know how to use it effectively with a single family doctor who helps them navigate more complicated issues before bringing in specific specialists.
The idea is that care takes place at the lowest possible level so as to be both continuous and preventative. This is perhaps why Danes are in touch with their primary care physician an average of nearly seven times per year, as opposed to Americans who, n average, seek care four times a year and do not have it continuously.
3. They Constantly Strive For Gender Equality
No country in the world has achieved gender parity yet but Denmark and its Scandinavian neighbors are coming very close. In Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, political parties introduced voluntary gender quotas in the 1970s, resulting in high numbers of female political representatives over the years. In Denmark, in fact, this quota has since been abandoned as no further stimulus is required.
In Denmark feminism is a collective goal, not an individual pursuit and it is prioritized rather than polarized with the country having its first female Prime Minister from 2011 to 2015.
4. They Get Daily Exercise
In a world where obesity is taking hold, we are constantly told that exercising keeps us healthy both physically and mentally and it is all those lovely endorphins released through exercise that contribute to our feelings of happiness. In Denmark, this is achieved by making cycling the norm.
In Denmark’s most populated and largest city, Copenhagen, bikes account for 50 percent of its residents’ trips to school or work and researchers found that in avoided air pollution, accidents, congestion, noise and wear and tear on infrastructure. Cyclists in Copenhagen cover an estimated 1.2 million kilometers each day –- saving the city a little over $34 million each year. With towns, cities and other infrastructure set-ups in a cyclist friendly manner and to encourage this daily form of exercise, it makes it easier, safer and cheaper than in other parts of the world.
Hygge is a cultural concept to the Danes that comes from making the most of their harsh weather or bleak conditions. It is very hard to explain in English but it is an idea of coziness that has arisen from long, dark winters be that drinking with friends or sharing a warm moment with loved ones. It is this positive spin on situations others might consider a bit dire that lends to an air of positivity and happiness.
In recent years, Danes have tried to export their concept of hygge to the rest of Europe with cosmopolitan Britons recently having an obsession with it in places like London and Brighton but it contrasts with the British nature of self-depreciation so there are still some cultural barriers to overcome.
6. Collective Responsibility
Danes feel a responsibility towards one another and so have a greater sense of civic duty combined with the economic security and work-life balance to support it and so there are high levels of volunteering with more than 40 percent of all Danes do voluntary work in cultural and sports associations, NGOs, social organisations, political organisations, etc.
This also lends to a higher voter turnout that sees a sense of pride in the democratic process as 87.7 percent of the country voted in their last election.
7. The Cuisine
Many courses with small portions, creatively displayed, of ingredients found locally throughout the seasons, typifies the idea of the 'New Nordic Kitchen' which the Danes are at the forefront of pushing to the rest of the world. Fresh fish and Danish bread provide hearty and healthy staples to this cuisine but they also know how to create a sweet treat or two.
Danish pastries line the windows of local bakeries, whilst a burgeoning coffee culture sees Danes often have a chat over a warm mug and a sweet snack.
8. Green, Clean and Serene
We've already touched on the lower levels of pollution thanks to the prominence of cycling but Denmark is also a world leader in urban design and building cities that work for people. This urban philosophy is mirrored throughout Danish society with a huge focus on sustainability. For instance, half of domestic electricity production will be wind power by 2020 (it is currently 20%), biomass is the largest renewable energy source at 70%, and by 2050 Denmark is aiming for total energy supply based on renewables.
Until recently (when they were trumped by the UK) Denmark had the largest offshore windfarm in Europe and it is this approach to renewable and green energy that provides hope and opportunity for the future.
9. Architecture and Urban Design
We've already said Denmark is a world leader in urban design and building cities that work for people which in turn increases community and safety and creates a ‘human scale’ where citizens come first. The center of the New Nordic design movement, Denmark is known for its sleek, chic and practical design.
Next to all of its modern designs and ideas, Denmark is actually a royal region with many ancient palaces spires, cobblestones, and castle gates lending to a fairy tale atmosphere.
10. They Make The Most of Everything
The Danish attitude to everything is to make the most of it. Take, for example, its weather. A country known for rainy days, you will often here a Dane say 'there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing' and it is exactly this sort of attitude that means they don't let little things hold them back.
They also have realistic expectations, expecting it to rain and being pleasantly surprised by the sun. In Copenhagen, there is still the same al fresco culture at coffee shops as in warmer places in Europe but Danes often come prepared with a blanket over their legs and a warm coat.