What makes the Danes so happy?

In happiness on July 28, 2009 at 12:01 pm

We’ve known for quite some while that the Danes are the happiest people on the planet. The 2006 international happiness survey confirmed it. There were a couple of pieces about it last week on Radio 4.

This article on the Today programme on Friday 24 July 09 explains why James Naughtie thinks the Danish people are so happy after a visit to Copenhagen.

Here’s a quick summary of what he found out. The Danes are so happy becuase they have:

– a comparatively small difference between high and low incomes.

– greater gender equality with very few ‘home-makers’ or ‘housewives’.

– social care from cradle to grave – childcare from six months; healthcare provision that means people don’t need private treatment; free universities etc.

– a sense of modesty about their equality, but also about their happiness (which is an unthreatening value about which to brag).

– a sense of ‘social capital’. And that the government values the happiness, health and well-being of the people.

– an inclusive business atmosphere where everyone’s opinion is heard, from the MD to the tea-boy.

– a sense of community where there is a core of society in which everyone feels proud.

It’s this last one that appears to be somewhat of a challenge for Denmark today. Danes have begun to realise that their egalitarian principles are not necessarily a simple sense of equality for all, but are tied in with ideas about how similar they all are as a nation – a sense of pride in ‘Danish-ness’. Is that ever likely to be eroded in a world where the composition of populations becomes more and more like a patchwork quilt?

It’s not to say that immigration into Denmark is a potential threat to that pride in common Danish values, but that’s because there is perhaps an expectation that people moving into Denmark are supposed to integrate and become part of the common denominator.

So, they have a clean, handsome, polished and contented country. But perhaps that’s because they are a country that wants to protect their happy state. They have some of the highest taxation in the world (most people pay over 50% tax), and as long as they see their services being delivered and their happiness continuing, they are sure to pay their fair way.

But will it be preserved into the future?
We’ll keep an eye on the Danes and see if they’re as happy next time they measure international happiness.


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