Are you happy? Would you know it if you were? How would you actually define happiness? The founding fathers of America bothered to include the “pursuit of happiness” as one of the inalienable rights of all humans. Of course, the right to “pursue” happiness is not necessarily a guarantee of finding happiness.
But according to the latest World Happiness Report, a few countries seem to have managed to discover happiness – and topping that list is Denmark. According to the report, “happiness” was measured based on the level that a nation enjoyed social support, freedom to make life choices, generosity, perceptions of corruption, life expectancy and GDP per capita. On a scale from 1 to 10, Denmark scored a 7.693, followed closely by Norway (7.655), Switzerland (7.650), Netherlands (7.512) and Sweden (7.480). While happiness is something that people talk about, evaluate and chase, I was intrigued as to how people would define it and what – if anything – they would give up to achieve it. So, I was off to Copenhagen to find out just what it was that the Danes had discovered and to see if they were as happy as the recent data suggested.
Some of my findings included the following:
- The Danish concept of “hygge” -which is sort of a “coziness” is part of the social support that contributes to happiness. But when talking to Danish immigrants – they indicate that this Danish version of closeness was not easy to find – and as of yet, so was happiness.
- “Freedom of Choice” is listed high on the things that contribute to happiness. I visited the self-proclaimed autonomous neighbor of Christiania – where marijuana and “freedom of choice” lifestyles existed outside the normal laws of Denmark and Europe. What was the consensus? Nosey journalist did not make people happy. Smoking a joint did. Let’s call it “temporary” happiness.
- Government security is often viewed as happiness. The Danish government provides a lot – free health care, free college education, free food and housing for the unemployed (including free flat-screen TVs). But does security mean happiness? My friend, photo journalist Simon Christiansen says that the welfare provisions of the Danish government are a great foundation – but that he still needs personal fulfillment and meaning in his life to call it happy.
- Are Danes genetically engineered to be happy? There is actually a theory about that too. Researchers from the University of Warwick evaluated information from 131 countries and found that the closer a nation was genetically to the Danes, the happier its people were. In summary, when it comes to the gene that is linked to low levels of life satisfaction, fewer Danes possess this version of the gene – and therefore are not as susceptible to depression or unhappiness.
But don’t overthink it – as the Danes will tell you, in their optimistic way, everything is going to be OK. 🙂