Denmark has continuously rated at the top of the World Happiness Report’s list of the world’s happiest countries since 2012.1Sadeghi, McKenzie. “Fact Check: Denmark Is among World’s Happiest Countries, but It’s Not No. 1.” USA Today, January 7, 2021. https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2021/01/02/fact-check-denmark-among-happiest-countries-but-isnt-no-1/4107107001/. Every year, the globe rates its countries according to factors such as economic opportunity, equality, and overall happiness; and this country is frequently ranked first in terms of sheer optimism. Denmark was ranked as the second happiest country in 2021, falling only slightly short of Finland with a happiness score of 7.646 versus 7.809.2“Charted: The Happiest Countries in the World.” World Economic Forum. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2023/03/charted-the-happiest-countries-in-the-world/. Since 2020, it has remained among the top three, with the United States ranking 18th. So, what makes Denmark such a cheerful place? Is there a secret to the happiness of the Danes, and if so, what can the United States learn from it?
Trust is an important concept in Danish culture, possibly because of the region’s Nordic economic model, in which the government, businesses, and people must trust each other to do what is best. The Nordic model is a hybrid of Nordic countries’ social welfare and economic systems. It combines aspects of capitalism like a market economy and economic efficiency with social advantages like state pensions and income distribution. In following this model, honesty is demanded from everyone, from public places to large enterprises. Children are frequently seen traveling alone on public transportation, and anyone can go for a walk at any time of day or night. According to the Telegraph, approximately 79% of Danes say they trust most individuals they meet on instinct.3“Living Life like the Danish – 4 Ways to Be Happier.” The Telegraph, October 19, 2018. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/discovering-hygge-in-copenhagen/danish-living/. It is also typical to see mothers leaving their toddlers in strollers outside while going for a coffee or meeting a friend.4“Trust a Cornerstone of Danish Culture.” Denmark.dk. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://denmark.dk/people-and-culture/trust. Although from the perspective of an outsider, this may seem strange, it is a very regular custom, not only because Danes believe the cold air is good for a baby, but also because safety is practically guaranteed.
Danes work to live, they don’t live to work. Danish workers work the second-fewest hours in the world, with an average of roughly 33 hours per week full-time and plentiful vacation time.5“Living Life like the Danish – 4 Ways to Be Happier.” The Telegraph, October 19, 2018.https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/discovering-hygge-in-copenhagen/danish-living/#:~:text=%25E2%2580%259COne%2520of%2520the%2520main%2520reasons,%252C%25E2%2580%259D%2520says%2520author%2520Helen%2520Russell. Danes also enjoy some of the most generous parental leave regulations in the world. The government requires companies to provide up to 52 weeks of parental leave, with monetary support for up to 32 weeks.6Harvey, Steve. “Happy Danes: Why Is Denmark the Happiest Country in the World?” Scandification, March 1, 2022. https://scandification.com/happy-danes-why-is-denmark-the-happiest-country-in-the-world/. Despite the more lenient workplace environment,, Denmark’s productivity and earnings are not affected by this more lenient workplace environment. In terms of productivity and performance, Denmark continues to outperform other powerful countries such as the United States, Germany, and Japan.7The Local. “World’s Second Happiest Country: Denmark Loses out to Finland Again.” The Local Denmark, March 20, 2023. https://www.thelocal.dk/20230320/worlds-second-happiest-country-denmark-loses-out-to-finland-again# Another important factor is the fact that one is not expected to work more hours, and doing so does not suggest that they are more committed to their career or that one is more deserving of a promotion or pay raise. There’s no need to overwork oneself because one will already get paid what they’re worth.
The Danish economy prioritizes citizen’s well-being. People in Denmark pay a large amount of income tax, as well as up to 25% VAT on most items.8“Economy of Denmark.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/place/Denmark/Economy. Still, most people are willing to pay this, because of several benefits they receive. One doesn’t have to worry about paying for healthcare in Denmark, and university students don’t have to pay any tuition. In fact, if someone decides to continue their education, they may be eligible for grants to help cover the costs of their studies.9 “Economy of Denmark.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/place/Denmark/Economy. Childcare is subsidized, and the elderly are also provided with pensions. Essentially, Danish people are willing to pay taxes to invest in happiness; contrary to the United States, where losing your job can put your health at risk.10 “Economy of Denmark.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/place/Denmark/Economy. It’s not so worrisome if one loses their job in Denmark. One can obtain help retraining for a new job and get unemployment benefits for up to two years. Denmark offers one of the most generous retirement systems in the world, with state-funded, employer-funded, and private choices.11 “Government and Society.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/place/Denmark/Economy.
Jante’s Law plays an important role in Danish society. Jante’s Law refers to an unwritten rule in Danish culture. Essentially, the premise is that you should never act smarter or better than anyone else.12“Danish Hygge.” Denmark.dk. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://denmark.dk/people-and-culture/hygge. In Denmark, no one is better than anybody else, and everyone is treated equally. As a result, you are less inclined to be envious of others. In Denmark, there are fewer visible signals of success or difficulty since everyone feels on the same level. There’s also less to be concerned about when it comes to testing new techniques and taking chances. If something does not work out, you will not face any consequences. In Denmark, though, one also has the concept of hygge.13 “Government and Society.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed June 30, 2023. https://www.britannica.com/place/Denmark/Economy. During the long winters, hygge is typically experienced indoors, with warm blankets and plenty of home comforts. In the summer, hygge can take place in the great outdoors with friends and family.
One of the last key factors contributing to Danes’ pleasure is the residents’ sense of empowerment. People feel at ease conducting their lives the way they want to. Due to the societal expectation of working to live, Danish people don’t feel a need to work extra hours to show dedication.14“Living Life like the Danish – 4 Ways to Be Happier.” The Telegraph, October 19, 2018.https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/discovering-hygge-in-copenhagen/danish-living/#:~:text=%25E2%2580%259COne%2520of%2520the%2520main%2520reasons,%252C%25E2%2580%259D%2520says%2520author%2520Helen%2520Russell. Danes are also encouraged to venture out and explore new experiences without fear of failure. There is also plenty of help available for anyone suffering from mental health or stress concerns. In fact, stress is not viewed negatively in Denmark; if you’re feeling stressed at work, you can actually take a break. “Stress leave” is encouraged by the government.15Harvey, Steve. “Happy Danes: Why Is Denmark the Happiest Country in the World?” Scandification, March 1, 2022. https://scandification.com/happy-danes-why-is-denmark-the-happiest-country-in-the-world/. In Denmark’s flexicurity labor market paradigm, which allows people and enterprises to be more flexible, there is a large safety net available for everybody.16“Living Life like the Danish – 4 Ways to Be Happier.” The Telegraph, October 19, 2018.https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/discovering-hygge-in-copenhagen/danish-living/#:~:text=%25E2%2580%259COne%2520of%2520the%2520main%2520reasons,%252C%25E2%2580%259D%2520says%2520author%2520Helen%2520Russell. It combines significant job mobility with a substantial income safety net for the jobless and active labor market policy.17 Flexicurity, May 22, 2023. https://www.star.dk/en/about-the-danish-agency-for-labour-market-and-recruitment/flexicurity/#:~:text=The%20Danish%20model%2C%20known%20as,an%20active%20labour%20market%20policy. Employers can easily dismiss and recruit employees, and employees can even receive insurance to help them if they lose their jobs.
The factors of trust, work regulation, prioritizing citizens’ happiness, Jante’s law, and a sense of empowerment all heavily contribute to the well-being of Danish people, and could additionally serve as an inspirational model for countries such as the U.S. However, it will be harder to set forth this model in the US, since the Danish population is relatively smaller compared to the size of the U.S. population, indicating a larger variety of opinions and decisions that can impede universal agreement. In spite of this fact, step by step, the U.S has the potential to improve the well-being of its citizens.