Ming the Mechanic:
Danish Happiness

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Danish Happiness2007-01-23 16:13
14 comments
picture 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.

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.
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.

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.


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14 comments

23 Jan 2007 @ 14:44 by GeZi @76.168.91.127 : victimless crimes
You might have hit the nail on the head with the observation of feeling free in Denmark. If there are are no victimless crimes what to worry about. You might complain a bit, as you observed your fellow countrymen do, but if it's OK to complain, you steamed it off and that's that - go back to be happy.

With the lack of victim-less crimes I got to contribute a story from the runner-up country. On the way back from Texel (you know the island in the North Sea - to catch a plane from Munich, we stopped in Amsterdam to take a little tour around the Grachten in those tourist boats. Parked the car, and the moment the door fell into the lock I realized that I had forgotten the car key in the lock - darn!
Walking across the street to a coffee shop to investigate what to do, find a lock smith, where a cop station might be, etc. I really must look like a tourist because the girl behind the counter did not even wait what I tried to say, but immediately grabbed the sample book from the shelf and showed me all the samples of weed she could offer.
Was rather surprising to me as a naturalized Californian. We convinced her that we were not interested in that and found a cop station and they helped us to call a lock smith who would come soon - we just stay with the car.
So we stood with the car and looked around and were intrigued watching a young lady conducting her business offering her body to male clients. Another wow for a Californian.
It took the lock smith a long time to come and break into our car, so we ended up being too late for the Grachten tour, but the experience of being in an environment were actions, that are considered absolute NO-NOs here in California, are just regular business and not crimes was well worth it.
Not having to look over your shoulder for victim-less crimes - I can imagine that makes for happier people.  



23 Jan 2007 @ 16:48 by Hanae @69.33.46.10 : Ming's Viking Ancestors ;-)

"Wherever they appeared and established themselves, one of the first thing the Vikings did was to set up a constitution and open up free markets. When Rollo and his men, for example, had conquered Normandy, Northern France was ravaged and dissolved; but Rollo soon built up a firm government again, by making a law that no man should lock his door. If anything was stolen, Rollo replaced it to the full. But woe to the thief if Rollo caught him! From this same flourishing Normandy, conquests of Sicily, South Italy and England were subsequently made.

The Vikings despised liars, backbiters, traitors and thieves; and nowhere in Europe was the position of women so safe, respected and honoured as in the Nordic countries.

Magnanimity and munificence were virtues esteemed as highly as valour and fearlessness.

'A man is a man and a word is a word' runs an old Danish saying. The highest store was set upon a promise, and a man's word was sacrosanct."

More here from The Viking Danes by Viggo Starcke

The Viking Danes was published by the National Travel Association of Denmark, in connection with the "Viking-Expedition 1949" in order to mark the 15th centenary of the arrival of Hengest and Horsa in England, 449 A.D.

All in all it makes for a fascinating read...  



23 Jan 2007 @ 17:35 by ming : Vikings
Wow, I didn't read that part. Cool. I did know that the Vikings had remarkably democratic societies, with equal rights for men and women, which certainly was rather unusual at the time.  


23 Jan 2007 @ 17:37 by i2i : Everything I know about the Vikings...
...I learned from Asterix and Obelix.

Here is Herendethelessen a character I discovered in Asterix and the Great Crossing.

And, here he is again, in a scene which contains an allusion to Copenhagen's Little Mermaid.

The nationality of the vikings in this story is Danish:

- This is made clear by several references to William Shakespeare's play about the Danish prince Hamlet. Odiuscomparissen at one point says: "There something rotten in my kingdom," while holding a skull in his hand. Towards the end of the comic Herendethelessen is seen wondering if he is a discoverer or not? He concludes by quoting Hamlet: "To be or not to be that's the question."

- When the viking's village is in sight, Herendethelessen tells his crewmembers to get ready to be covered with honors. The next panel shows a bubble by yelling village chief Odiuscomparissen. When Herendethelessen is told that they are greeted by their chief, he responds that of course, they were going to be greeted that way, that they shouldn't expect a mermaid — a reference to the statue The Little Mermaid in the port of Danish capital Copenhagen.

- Herendethelessen's dog, Huntingseåssen, is a Great Dane.  



23 Jan 2007 @ 17:54 by ming : Victimless crimes
It seems like such a no-brainer to me that a lot of crime and suffering would be removed very easily by making victim-less crimes legal. The kind of stuff that isn't really crimes, but just somebody's moral judgement of others. Nudity, prostitution, sexual fetishes and psychedelic drugs, being high on that list. Just means that there are certain experiences that some stuck-up people in power don't want you to have. Which in turn fuels multi-billion dollar crime industries, which puts a lot of particularly women at risk, and puts a lot of recreational drug users in danger. And which gets thousands of people killed, and hundreds of thousands put in jail.

Despite me being from Denmark, and despite having been gone from the U.S. for several years, I still catch myself occasionally showing signs of the puritanical attitude one somehow gets indoctrinated with in America. You know, a slight reaction when there's a naked woman in the commercial from the gas company, or when they play Snoop Dogg on the radio without censoring the 'bad' words. Not being offended in any way, but sort of glancing over my shoulder, expecting the secret thought police to show up and drag somebody away.  



23 Jan 2007 @ 18:13 by ming : Asterix and the vikings
Ha, "Øbsen le Terrifiant", that's funny.

In all fairness, Vikings also came from Sweden or Norway or Iceland. Which in significant periods of time was the same country as Denmark. But nowadays some nationalistic pride, and the fuzziness of 1000-year old history, might make people (historians) argue at great length over whether the Normans were Danish or Norwegian, and that kind of thing.  



23 Jan 2007 @ 18:17 by Hanae @69.33.46.10 : Viking name

So, does this mean that all this time, on these occasions when I referred to Ming as Flemming-san (a title of respect added to a name), I should really have said Flemmingsen instead?  



23 Jan 2007 @ 18:22 by ming : Names
Well, the -sen actually means 'son'. So, since my dad's name is Carl, I ought to have Carlsen as my last name. But it is only Iceland that still uses that tradition, including for women. If your mom's name is Ingrid, you'd be Ingriddottir, -dottir meaning daughter.  


23 Jan 2007 @ 18:37 by Hanae @69.33.46.10 : Aha!

So, for instance, Andersen (like in Hans Christian Andersen) would mean "son of Ander."  



23 Jan 2007 @ 18:43 by Hanae @69.33.46.10 : And...er...

Well...I just found out that as it turns out there are some rumors that Hans Christian Andersen was the illegitimate son of King Frederick VI of Denmark...  



23 Jan 2007 @ 19:30 by ming : Andersen
Yeah, it would mean "son of Anders". But I don't know when it stopped being used like that, and one started keeping the same last name. Probably before his time.

Yes, I've heard that rumor too. Didn't sound all that probable. But those kings seemed to have a lot of illegimate children, so it isn't too hard to descend from them. My stepfather was very proud of his family tree that went back to Christian IV, 12 generations back, through an illegitimate child as well. Statistically speaking, it is kind of hard NOT to descend from some famous king, if one just had good enough records.  



25 Jan 2007 @ 05:41 by Tanja Themo @83.197.132.87 : Danish Happiness
Thanks to Funch for this blog and for the intelligent/funny adding to it!
Being a Danish woman with more warmblooded ancestors (gypsies, having travelled a lot and lived in several other countries), I have found the Danish humorous, laid-back, non-authoritarian, and free mentality quite refreshing. Especially after having visited countries with a puritanical attitude like very christian-catholic/muslim countries - like America/France and Pakistan!
There is something refreshing about sitting on an airplane hearing the Danish pilot saying stuff like: "Hi all! It seems to be a lovely day today. If they'll let us, we should soon be able to get this plane off the ground and turn our nose towards little Denmark."
Even though the Danish humor has a tendency to be very ironic, sarcastic and simple, it can be quite refreshing after experiencing the serious authoritarian attitude in France, America, and Germany.
The Danish suppressive "Jante Law"; that you must not be different (if you want to belong to this group), but you should try to eat, drink, look, and act like the rest, has never been to my liking.
Neither has the traditional Danish 'food', which in my opinion is neither very tasty, nutritious, nor healthy. But OK, eat what YOU like, and I'll stick to my spicy, vegetarian Thai and Indian foods! :)
Being a woman I do find the medieval (christian/muslim) puritanism rather suppressive, ridiculous, and downright stupid, as nobody can ofcourse suppress the human drive to be free, happy - or having sex!
My travels in christian/catholic/muslim countries, where moral is called 'high' has mostly resulted in harassment and rape-assaults by confused, sex-hungry men.
Even today, men in France will blow their horn loudly , if they see an attractive woman in the street. Now, I do not mind being a sexual object - preferably with my boyfriend around - but I have found it very annoying to be yelled and screamed at, only because men liked my dress/body that day.
I do like the general freeness about nudity and sex in Denmark, as people (men) are therefore having a much more relaxed attitude towards (the other) sex.
The Danish freedom loving, down-to-earth-attitude in Denmark seems to be very different to the extreme puritanism in America, where a lot of (christian) women do not believe/have sex before marriage. Hmmm...They'll have some surprise coming up ...!
In Denmark it is normal to have (safe) sex on your first 'dates'. And Danish vikings likes to party. There is such a difference between a park in Paris in the summertime, where people sit nicely on fancy, white café chairs, and a park in Copenhagen, where most young people are wearing nearly no clothes, lying on the grass, drinking and smoking.
I am not sure it makes you happier to be able to smoke, drink, take drugs and have more sex, but you can be sure, that if you ban those things, people will do them anyway!
What is great about travelling is to get so experience the different cultures.
The French have a reputation of being polite, but really aren't (only if you look like Dolly Parton and own a Ferarri). The Americans have a reputation of being arrogant, but they are for most part (too) polite. But the viking genes in the Danish population does not result in great politeness. Our genes are programmed with raping and pilliging, so we want to go first. Our (quite masculine!) women don't need any help, they can do everything by themselves, and you can be sure of one thing in Denmark: Nobody's going to help you with your heavy luggage or open doors for you.
Do I believe the Danes are more happy than other nations? Only in the summertime, when it is weekend and they are having fun in the sun with their friends and a bow of beers.
I believe that all people are doing what they can to be happy. Some are just not as creative at this as the Danes.
Kind regards,  



25 Jan 2007 @ 11:49 by ming : Danes
I'm quite happy being Danish, with the pros and cons. But also quite content being a Dane who lives elsewhere. Then pretty much everything becomes a joy when I actually visit Denmark.

I enjoy living in France as well. They have their own pros and cons. They're much more formal and harder to get close to. But they don't particularly have the kinds of hangups that bother me. And mostly it is a matter of learning the different signals.

My grown-up daughter, who's a pretty young woman, was having all sorts of problems at first, with guys who wouldn't leave her alone, who'd follow her on the street and not take no for an answer. Until she learned the right signals. Here it is perfectly alright to stare at somebody on the street or in the train, simply because you're curious. That wouldn't be ok in the US or in Denmark, but rather a sign of aggression. But if you then look back and you smile, as an American might do to appear friendly or polite, that would here mean that you're interested, whatever else you say afterwards. Here one doesn't smile unless one really means something with it.  



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