| by Flemming Funch|
I had read about the study before, but a mention at BoingBoing, and a comment by Gunter makes me look at it again.
Studies show that in Europe, the Danes are by far the people most satisfied with life.
The Danish football triumph of 1992 has had a lasting impact. This victory arguably provided the biggest boost to the Danish psyche since the protracted history of Danish setbacks began with defeat in England in 1066, followed by the loss of Sweden, Norway, Northern Germany, the Danish West Indies, and Iceland. The satisfaction of the Danes, however, began well before 1992, albeit at a more moderate level. The key factor that explains this and that differentiates Danes from Swedes and Finns seems to be that Danes have consistently low (and indubitably realistic) expectations for the year to come. Year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find that not everything is getting more rotten in the state of Denmark.Despite being from Denmark, I'd kind of never have guessed it. Danes complain a lot, about the weather, the government, each other. But at the same time, they do really spend a lot of their life having a very cozy time. Danes tend to be a bit emotionally unavailable, but at the same time there's a certain warmth there which is unique. I never thought of it as Danes being happy, but I suppose one can see it that way.
The researchers obviously had a hard time figuring out why the Danes in particular are content. They came up with stuff like:
Food — Meals in Denmark can be politely described as unmemorable. "Danish cuisine" is an oxymoron, except perhaps the open faced "butter breads" that accompany the beer and aquavit Danes consume for lunch. Older Danes satisfy their hunger with potatoes, gravy, and a bit of pork, and younger ones devour hotdogs, hamburgers, and Baltic-style pizzas. Danish cuisine has some similarities with food from Switzerland and Austria, the second and third happiest nations according to the World Map of Happiness; this suggests that the consumption of comfort foods may be important for life satisfaction.
Eh, that's entirely possible. How about another glass of snaps? And, hey, I take offense to the remarks about Danish food. Unmemorable!?! The Danes love it, and I sure miss the food.
Alcohol and smoking — High levels of smoking and drinking are associated with low wellbeing, but Danes are among those with the highest consumption in Europe. This is reflected in causes of death and low life expectancy. A reviewer of our paper suggested that one reason that Danes seem smug may be that they were drunk when they participated in the Eurobarometer surveys.
The part about low expectations might indeed be a key. Danes aren't very patriotic and don't have any ambitious agenda as far as their role in the world. Denmark is a small country and it hasn't been any kind of superpower for a very long time. And being ambitious tends to be socially frowned upon in Denmark. "Don't come here thinking you're anything special", is sort of a hidden Danish attitude. There's even a name for it, the unwritten "Jante Law", which says that if anybody tries to stand out in any way, everybody else will knock them down to size.
So, Danes don't expect much. Which means they don't have much to be disappointed about. Indeed, Danes are rarely disappointed. Which in a roundabout way might add up to contentment or even happiness.
But if I should add a factor which they didn't mention, it is that Denmark is a free country, in the sense that you can say whatever you want, and there's very relaxed standards in terms of morals and vices and freedom of expression. It is not for nothing that it was in Denmark that porn first was legalized. Danes typically have no hangups in that regard. The age of sexual consent is 15. There's no age for when you legally can drink or smoke, or whatever. There are no words you can't say on TV. There's no censorship. Thus, there's an absence of the moral mind control you find in many other countries. In comparison, Sweden is a much more controlled society where the government will regulate what part of the cigarette you're supposed to smoke, and you can only buy alcohol in government owned stores. In this regard Denmark is very comparable to the Netherlands, which indeed is number 2 on that chart there. I'd say that's a big factor. Danes are quite free to be themselves and do what they enjoy doing, which ought to produce some kind of contentment.