Denmark: Happiest place on Earth
By every index, the Danes are some of the happiest people in the world -- sociologist Peter Glindelock explains why.
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At this time of year, Copenhagen is cold and snowy, and the sun sets at around three in the afternoon. In many places this would be a recipe for gloom and grumpiness, but not in Denmark. In fact, numerous studies indicate Danes are the happiest people on the planet.
In Denmark, like in much of Europe, salaries and the standard of living are high, and violent crime and corruption are low. But, the Danes say it's not money that buys happiness. They sum up their secret in a difficult to define Danish word:
"It's called hygge," according to University of Copenhagen Sociologist Peter Glindelock. "Hygge, which is -- Danes like to say it's not possible to translate that into other languages, but it's something like coziness -- to be in your home, as we're having our cup of coffee, talking with friends. I think everybody's doing it actually in the all countries, but the Danes really like to think that it's something special for them."
Denmark scores often at the top of the list of places where people are very happy. Professor Glindelock has conducted numerous studies on the subject.
Glindelock says part of the reason is the country's social system. "The happiness standard is the quality of life in different societies. And Denmark scores very highly on all those different values. So even though the climate is poor, which is part of that analysis, it still shows that the welfare state is very important for people's happiness."
In Denmark, the state controls the health, educational, and other systems, and the Danes are willing to pay high taxes to support them. "And this kind of welfare state means that everybody gets more or less the same from the state," said Glindelock. "At least what the Danes like, they like an egalitarian society."
But good social programs are only a contributing factor, adds Glindelock, as the populations in Eastern European welfare states don't score as high as the Danes on the happiness index.
The real secret to the happiness of the Danes, says Glindelock, "... they are closer to their family, to their colleagues, to their friends. They meet more often. And they argue that they have ... more to do with each other. So, we believe that the character of the social ties is very important. And these social ties are, sort of horizontal. In the sense that it's on equal terms, and not vertical in relationships. And a lot of theory says that if social ties are horizontal it creates social trust and also happiness. So if there is a secret, this is probably it."
Glindelock characterizes this Danish social connectivity as "collective individualism." While the country's system works in a collective way, Danes still feel that they can be individuals within it.
But there are always two sides to a coin, and Glindelock admits Denmark has problems too. It's a largely homogenous, tight-knit society, so it's difficult to access.
"I mean, many say that Denmark is like a tribe, so everybody knows each other, have the same names, they live in the same neighborhood -- so to speak -- in a small country," said Glindelock. "And this means it's a very close-knit society. But the other side of the coin is that it's difficult to get access into that society. And in particular, immigrants have had hard times doing that. It's becoming better now, but for many years it was very a problem."
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