This year the Danes have yet again been awarded The Most Happy People by a United Nations Poll. Third year in a row. What makes people happy? According to the Danes, these are the major points:
- Free Access to Health Care
- Free Access to Education
- A welfare system that takes care of you from cradle to grave
- 35-hour work week and 5 weeks of paid vacation annually
- A community where kids can walk from home to school safely
To pay for this safe, healthy and educated life the Dane is prepared to pay up to 60% taxes on personal income.
The notion of The Common Good is strong with a Dane, because if most people are happy, the fear of rebellion or even war does not exist. Knowing that your neighbor is content means you can be content, too. When you are on vacation, your neighbor is on vacation, and you don’t have to think about work.
The balance of work and life is like this: when you work, you work, when you’re off, you’re off! You value your values: freedom of beliefs, freedom of speech, trust in the system, trust in your neighbor. Everybody is more or less on the same page and that makes for a functioning society, where the individual yields to the common good.
Then there is the unspoken law: Janteloven (the law of Jante) which keeps each individual in place, not wanting too much, avoiding greed, foregoing envy, staying put, not pushing your luck. An absolute opposite of The American Dream. In America, you may be entitled to happiness, in Denmark, it is shared through the common good.
Thus, individualism takes the back seat to societal idealism. Personal ambition may benefit the individual person but should also benefit the immediate community and the larger society.
Is there a back side to this utopia? One such critic is Michael Booth, an English journalist, who has lived in Denmark for fifteen years and has written the book The Almost Nearly Perfect People. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ is how he likes to describe their mantra.
NPR has a segment on Michael Booth and The Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia and PBS News Hour is asking Does Denmark live up to its title as the happiest nation?
Let me know what you think.