Denmark – Traveling to the ‘Happiest’ Country in the World – by Michaela Campbell. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

Denmark – Traveling to the ‘Happiest’ Country in the World – by Michaela Campbell. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

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[The ‘Little Mermaid’, Copenhagen (København), Denmark]

When I told people that I would be studying the ‘Science of Happiness’ abroad in Europe I was the recipient of either intrigued expressions, or a fit of laughter. Our trip focused on the area of positive psychology, which is a relatively new field in the area of psychology. Our main purpose for traveling abroad to Europe was to visit a few main areas, with Denmark being the sole focus, since it had recently been rated as the happiest country in the world. The country currently usually moves down a spot or two, and then goes back up to the number one spot every couple of years. So twenty other classmates, two professors, their young sons, and myself boarded a flight one evening in mid-May to discover what may be some potential causes for these findings.

Our first hands-on exposure to the ‘happy’ Danish lifestyle came when we had the opportunity to travel to different area high schools in and around Copenhagen to talk with local students about our differing cultures. The high school that I had the pleasure of visiting included three other classmates and myself having a Q&A with fifty Danish students. The students often asked about our public policy programs, American politics, and Minnesota weather. But as the questions became more in-depth, we asked the Danes why they believed that they were among the happiest people in the world, and the responses were intriguing.

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[Nyhaven, Denmark]

One Danish students’ response was, “We’re happy because the only thing we have to worry about is what the weather will be like tomorrow”. When you live in a country like Denmark that has free healthcare and free post-secondary education, it makes sense that your main concern would be the weather, among other menial things. Another key factor as to why the Danes believe they are among the happiest of nations is that they trust their government and the system that runs it. In the US, stories of corrupt politicians and corporations headline the news every day. This is why my classmates and myself when asked by the Danes if “we trusted our current government”, we were a little ashamed to truthfully say, “No”. A third factor that makes the Danes appear as a ‘happy’ nation is the emphasis on time with friends and family. According to the students we talked with, the average work-week for a Dane is 37 hours per week. As soon as the work-day is done, the Danes leave work at the office, and put more of an emphasis on enjoying life with loved ones. This is very different from the American work style, where we often can be found putting work in front of friends and family.

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[In Copenhagen (København), Denmark, on a bike tour through the Royal Palace (Amalienborg)]

Strong social policies, trust for a country’s government, and emphasis enjoying leisure are what create lack of stress within the Danish lifestyle. Lack of stress is what I believe leads the Danish people to lead a ‘happy’ life and be one of the happiest nations in the world every year. Here in the US, we pay outrageous amounts of money for healthcare, especially if not covered by an employer, and the US college tuition rise is a whole other problem in of itself. These issues put enormous amounts of stress on the American people, and this could explain why the US ranked twelve spots below Denmark on the happiness rankings.

Michaela serves as an editor for The NSR. This essay is based on Michaela’s participation in St. Scholastica’s Denmark and Happiness Study Abroad Trip supervised by Professor Karen Petersen.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at) css.edu

See also, our Facebook page with curated news articles at http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports

The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy (http://NorthStarReports.org) is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In three years we have published over 250 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors (http://www.facebook.com/NorthStarReports). This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. The North Star Reports is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at: http://www.historians.org/perspectives/issues/2013/1305/Opening-The-Middle-Ground-Journal.cfm

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica. Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy http://NorthStarReports.org ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, with generous support from The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at) css.edu

37 Comments

Filed under Michaela Campbell, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

37 responses to “Denmark – Traveling to the ‘Happiest’ Country in the World – by Michaela Campbell. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at NorthStarReports.org and facebook.com/NorthStarReports

  1. Kalahan Larson

    This article was very interesting to me in the sense of having a different outlook from another country’s perspective. We are known for our democracy and government that is supposed to make our country free- but we are, in many ways, far from free. We are tied down to our healthcare and our students loan debt- but an education and health care are two things that Americans find as a necessity in many ways. If we could find a way to turn our systems into a place such as Denmark, then our country’s crime and death rate may go down. We often may not associate school loans and health care with death and crime, but it, in my opinion, has to be closely tied. People in poverty are not able to get a good job (assuming), because they may not have the right education for the jobs available. Without the proper job, there is no health care for these people. After taking these thoughts into consideration- don’t you agree that these things are components of our death and crime rates?

  2. Grace Young

    This trip sounds like an eye-opening experience, and I am glad that you have shared what you learned with us. I don’t know much about Denmark, but from what you described about free healthcare and secondary education, it can be easily seen why they are considered one of the happiest countries in the world. Just reflecting back on my own life, some of the major stressors come from worrying about affording a quality education for myself and also a comfortable and happy life for my entire family. It is almost unimaginable for me to think that a full time job is only be 37 hours a week and that individual can still live a happy life. My parents themselves sometimes work over 60 hours a week, and sometimes have to bring work home. The question then is how can we make a change in our country to become happier? It would take a lot of work, but in the long run it would be worth it.

  3. Nouqouja Yang

    What a really nice article. Your experience must have been amazing there. When I read your line about the happiest country, I instantly thought about Bhutan. After reading everything, it was clear to me how Denmark would be one of the happiest places to live. It also makes me think a lot about how so many countries run their system and how happy they are compared to us. Of course, our country is amazing and many people are happy here, but when I think about our government and healthcare system, it makes me sad inside because overall, like you said, it’s outrageous. Thank you for sharing your experience! It really makes me want to experience the different cultures and see how they define happiness also.

  4. Matthew Breeze

    This is intriguing and I had no idea that there was a field of psychology that looks into the happiness of nations. I think that it is interesting that those students told you that their biggest concern is the weather, maybe that really is when people know that they are happy, that is, when their biggest concern is the weather. I wish that we would have less concern, especially about the cost of healthcare and college tuition here in the U.S. I cant help but wondering if part of the reason they have so few concerns is that they are a member of the NATO, the military alliance that is lead by the U.S. This defense agreement with many nations may remove the worries of national security. Thanks again for your article!

  5. Alexa Lee

    I find it interesting that (speaking from experience here) some people insist America is the best country in the world and everyone wants to be us. This essay and your interview with the Danish people show that people in other countries can be perfectly content with their lives, and aren’t always looking at ways to make themselves more like the US. I also think about the definition of happiness when I read this essay, because perhaps our two countries have completely different versions of what it means to be happy. Ours surrounds money, and they seem to be fulfilled with being “in the moment.” Is one right or wrong, better or worse? Not necessarily, but I think it would be nice to make some improvements on our own homeland since, like you said, unless we have money, what the weather is like isn’t high on our worry list.

  6. Thank you for the article Michaela, it was quite informative. I had heard of Dainish people being one of the happiest in the world, but I did not know the details on how that was measured or why it came to be. I can understand how being socially and finacially secure can make people happier than others who face more problems in these regards. I do wonder however, how exactly the studies were conducted and if there are other factors that might affect the results. I say this because some of the happiest people I know seem to negate almost all of the things mentioned as reasons for being happier. Maybe it’s differnt when looking at happiness of countries as a whole. That being said no matter what, I do hope all the countries in the world move towards similar conditions, although I am not sure that is where most are heading right now.

  7. Dylan Brovick

    I agree with you in that a lack of stress is a big reason for their happiness. I couldn’t imagine how less stressed I would be if I wasn’t paying thousands for school and also had free healthcare. one thing i liked was that they had a thirty seven hour work week and also left work at home. I believe that if America would adopt a similar work week or one that gave its people more free time, we would be a lot happier. If you think about it most people complain that they don’t have enough time to do the things they enjoy or they are too tired after spending most of their day doing a job they don’t really enjoy. If we worked a little bit less and had time to do what we enjoyed I feel all people would be a little bit happier. Also the work week here could be what is causing our country to have so many people diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Hopefully someday we may adopt a few things that Denmark does and see a happier United States.

  8. Kathleen Reicher

    Thanks for sharing, Michaela! It is just amazing to me that there are such simple reasons why the people of Denmark are so happy. It makes me wish that the United States was more like Denmark. I know I am not alone when I say that the price of a college education is scary and puts a great deal of stress on me and other students as well. I can understand how not having that burden would make people more happy. Same with healthcare being so expensive here and longer work weeks. It has been proven that shorter work weeks make people more productive during the time that they are at work, and I think it should be implemented here in the U.S. Not saying that the U.S. is a terrible place to live, but Denmark proves that the U.S. is not the happiest place to live, and I think changing some little things in this country could make a big difference.

  9. Elaina Wald

    This article was very informative to me as someone who a) did not know about this field of positive psychology and b) was unaware of Denmark’s status as the happiest country in the world. I have personally never associated particularly sad (or whatever the opposite of happiness is for an individual) feelings with our healthcare and post-secondary situation. I assume I’d experience a feeling of mild satisfaction when I do manage to afford college or pay for healthcare. When I think more deeply about the things that cause unhappiness, I find that they are mostly rooted in finances. It now seems painfully obvious that free college and healthcare would make for happier people. Happier people are likely to be more productive and comfortable with their lives, which benefits society as whole. There is a part of me that takes issue with the idea that more money equals more happiness, but I think in the world we have created, that may ring true for most people and especially most Americans.

  10. Rachel Reicher

    Thank you for sharing your story, Michaela! This was very intriguing to read mainly because being a resident of one of the world greatest countries, I would wonder what makes our world different from others, also what can be deceiving. One of the things that struck me from your article is that the US government is corrupt and that we as people do not trust our own government. This does add stress to the American people and as an American I wish I could say that I do trust in it, like the Danes. We tend to think about our daily lives that make us happy, and in the US we are “fairly” wealthy and living happy is a possibility. But to open our eyes to the larger argument of the government, we can see many flaws. I didn’t quite put into perspective that this could be a stress to American people until hearing from a Dane in your article that there are countries out there that do not have this problem and are “happier.” What a wonderful read. It opens my mind to other countries good qualities.

  11. Caroline Grube

    When my mom was in high school, my grandparents had a foreign exchange student from Denmark. He was always very happy and very respectful and had trouble understanding my mom’s worry and my grandparents’ worry. However, after reading this article, I can now see why. I do not know if Denmark’s situation was the same back then as it is now, but Henrik was always happier than we thought anyone could be. Until now, I assumed it was a personality trait. I would love to visit a place like Denmark and learn more about the culture and how we can help the American culture and society become a little more like that. I think it is very important to be able to leave work at work and spend quality time focusing on family and friends.

  12. Der Yang

    Thank you for sharing Michaela Campbell, as it was very interesting information! Thinking back, I have heard data about Denmark being a rather happy place… I was not sure if I believed it or not due to its rumors of alcoholics. Yet, each and every place have flaws. So I guess my reasoning was not a very good one. Anyway, the one concept that caught my attention the most was the idea of having free healthcare and post-secondary education. Those are a few of the things that our nation deals with harshly everyday and especially to poor families. I will for now on seriously consider Denmark to be a place to raise a family!

  13. Mariah Koenig

    In my psychology class last semester, we learned that Denmark was the happiest country, but we didn’t really learn why. I really love the amount of emphasis they put on spending time with family. That is one thing America could learn from them. Related to family time, last semester I learned that in the US, women get 16 weeks of (usually) unpaid maternity leave, while in Denmark, women get 52 weeks of PAID maternity leave. Denmark’s policy is much better for both the mother and the baby! The amount of money that we have to shell out on HealthCare and college causes lots of stress, as does the overworking people do to get the money to pay for it. One thing that stuck out to me is how many Americans don’t trust our government, which adds even more stress to people. One of my friends in high school dated a guy who was from Denmark, and every couple months would fly to Denmark with him. She said she loved it there because everyone was always so positive and happy. I would really love to travel to Denmark someday. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  14. Francesca Do

    I have heard that Denmark was one of the happiest countries in the world from my Family and Society class at Saint Scholastica. Ever since then I have always wanted to visit a country that has values like mine. I believe spending time with family and friends is very important because we as humans have limited time with each other, so why not spend time with the people you love, rather than work all day. Free health care and post-secondary education around the world, would be one of the best actions to proceeds. For it not only helps you but other people. I hope in the future I could visit the happiest country in the world.

  15. What a fun trip! I have my thoughts on Denmark, why they are the happiest and I have some concerns on their means of happiness. The thought of free health care, and free education makes the place sound amazing but at what cost do those come at? I have absolutely no understanding of psychology so I couldn’t begin to formulate an answer, but I’m happy you know about it so that you can tell me an answer someday!

  16. I did not know about the science of happiness, and found it very cool that you got to take a trip with the sole focus being studying happiness! I have to think that the shorter work week, and more time with family really helps the overall happiness of the country. Now knowing that Denmark has free post-secondary education, it would be interesting to learn how much a post-secondary education is valued in Denmark, compared to how much it is valued here in America. One would think that we value a college education more than those in Denmark.

  17. Joel Scheuerlein

    I do find this very well written and a wonderful outlook on the Danish society. However, I see the problem with the American happiness coming from a sense of over entitlement. Kids today feel like they are entitled to all sorts of technology our ancestors never could have even dreamed of. I believe it is because of this and when they are told no, as well as seeing someone else with that device they could not receive that leads American kids to be less happy. I think Americas views of what’s important have shifted dramatically in the last 50 years. If you asked me what I want and what would make me happy, I would answer family. I don’t care if I don’t have anything, as long as I have family I will be the happiest man in the world. Those are values after readying this article that I believe the Danish have, and that’s why they are so happy, and that’s what America needs to get back to.

  18. Skyler Long

    I found this article very interesting, while still informative. The idea of free post-secondary school should be valued here in the United States like it is in Denmark. If college could even be half the price it is now, it would relieve so much stress and pressure on our decisions for where we choose to go. It’s interesting to compare Denmark and America, and how so many things differ in our country.

  19. William Brennhofer

    I love the idea of travailing to find happiness. Also the idea that America is the best place to live is so hard to believe, because we see other states like this, that actually are for the people. I would love to follow in your steps and take a trip like this to understand a different path then the one America puts most of us on. I feel like i would have also given you stares as you told me about your trip. But seeing the pictures and words make me want to go with you/

  20. Ellen Hansen

    Thank you so much for this article! As someone who also participated in this program, the carefree nature of Danish life also caught me by surprise. I particularly enjoyed your attention to the work/family/leisure balance in Danish life, because it is organized in such a way that allows people to truly *live* and experience the world. Another thing to note about the country is the casual beauty at every turn- it was completely filled with public art and nice, communal places to socialize. On the point of Danish responses to American politics, it is interesting how what seemed obvious to them (insuring the well-being of citizens through social policy) was not necessarily expressed by all of American society, showing the intense contrast in mindset we can see just by crossing the ocean.

  21. Hattie Meyer

    Taking a trip to study how a country is ranked top in happiness seems like a life changing experience. I wonder if there was a few statistics done in Denmark that would show the difference in students grades depending on if they have to burden of paying for tuition or not. If getting rid of tuition for college students would bring down depression, anxiety and suicide rates? I find that the questions are endless. Another thing that struck me was the topic of trusting the government. Besides the headlines, what creates the differences in trusting the government between America’s and Denmark’s people?

  22. Hanna McLevish

    I am a psychology major, so I find this article very intruiging. It’s honestly so amazing that the only thing they have to worry about is the weather. We have so many worries everyday. It would be cool to travel a place that has no worries in government because they trust them, it’s sad that the media in the United States finds flaws in officials and puts them on the media.

  23. I would love to hear more about what exactly the “science of happiness” or positive psychology is! Was your goal on the trip to learn what causes happiness or makes a person’s/group of people’s disposition one of positivity? How new to psychology is the study of positive psychology/the science of happiness? I think what you learned about why Danes are much happier as a people rings very true. In the United States, stress and lack of sleep are glorified. Americans are told they must constantly work and work to make their way to the top, or finally reach happiness. What if instead, they were able to be happy along the way? Thank you for sharing, I hope to read more of your articles in the future!

  24. Madeleine Scanlan

    European life differs greatly from American culture and politics. Free health-care and free post-secondary seem almost like natural rights in Europe – it is what people expect of their country. Such policies do come at a price, in that hospitals are under huge stress from the rising number of patients. However, perhaps Denmark is dealing with this problem okay for now. The idea of trusting their government is very important. I am fortunate enough to say that I trust my government in England and I value the freedoms that I have. I can only hope that such freedoms can be felt properly worldwide.

  25. European life differs greatly from American culture and politics. Free health-care and free post-secondary seem almost like natural rights in Europe – it is what people expect of their country. Such policies do come at a price, in that hospitals are under huge stress from the rising number of patients. However, perhaps Denmark is dealing with this problem okay for now. The idea of trusting their government is very important. I am fortunate enough to say that I trust my government in England and I value the freedoms that I have. I can only hope that such freedoms can be felt properly worldwide.

  26. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing your experience! I have always heard that Denmark is usually voted as the happiest place in the world but I always thought that it was odd because I thought it was nearly impossible to actually measure happiness. Just by reading your article I have come to realize that maybe it is a lot easier to see happiness and actually measure it when it comes to looking at a country like Denmark. It is amazing that the main things that stress out Americans to a point where they are always gloomy at one point or another is something that is taken care of by the government in Denmark. The stress in Denmark must be very low with the way the culture is. I feel like if we followed a similar path we would soon become a happier country.

  27. Andrew Bailey

    Michaela, thank you for sharing some stories and the findings of your travels. It is fascinating that even high school students are able to explain the reason why Denmark ranks as one of the happiest nations in the world. The fact that they already realize they have rather bright futures ahead of them with little to no debt and a society where government and the people are in perfect harmony would be really reassuring. It would help to put our own society at ease and help people in America to put a greater focus on family rather than work and money. I remember my father working long hours into the night when I was home after his normal work day was over. This was not because he did not want to spend more time with our family, but because he was working tirelessly to support our family financially and to provide for myself and my brother.

  28. Siji Gonzalez

    This article was amazing and really interested me. I would love to take a trip like this and see how the differences are between one country and the other. I really liked that you took the time to do this. Sometimes stats isn’t everything and you have to look at things for yourself. You have to see it to believe it type of deal. It really inspired me to travel more and see whats out there in the world.

  29. The fact that a country like this exists blows my mind. I am sure there are pros and cons, but Denmark certainly has very nice aspects to it. Free health care and free post secondary education cannot be looked past. Healthcare is one of the most discussed topics among politics in the U.S. Stress is a terrible feeling and I love that such a stress free country is out there. Happiness is a something everyone needs to have in life.

  30. Paige Perreira

    Denmark seems almost like a fantasyland of sorts. In a way, it could be too good to be true. We almost never hear about conflict in Denmark. Universal healthcare is something that would relieve a lot of stress for many people, and I think that it is a tragedy that Americans don’t have access to this essential program. Being able to receive medical care, regardless of social status, is a human right, and Denmark is doing that.

  31. Avnish Miyangar

    This article was an eye-opener as I would never have considered to even visit Denmark. Thanks to your article it is now on my bucket list. It sounds like a wonderful place to live. I think it is important for people to be happy and emphasize that in everything you do. Healthcare and education should be a priority in any country.

  32. Kendra Brunn

    This was very interesting to read! Denmark seems like an awesome place to live or to visit. In my psychology class last semester we talked a little bit about the Science of Happiness but we never got past the basics. I wish we would have delved deeper into this because I found it very intriguing. I love that you got to sit down with those Danish students and talk about the our different countries. I found it very astonishing that they said they did not trust or government although sadly, I can’t say I’m surprised. Thank you for sharing this wonderful piece!

  33. Sheila Iteghete

    Although these factors such as free healthcare, free post-secondary education and spending more leisure time with friends makes Denmark known as the happiest country in the world I am still a little confused as to why the United States of America is on the list at all since this country is the opposite of Denmark. It is very much an opposable country when it comes to the trust placed on the government. I believe this came because of the United States of America being more of an individualistic nature rather than what is over in Denmark. Their sense of belonging too would also be passed along each generation, which would help them maintain their #1 spot of being the happiest.

  34. Isabella Restrepo-Toro

    After reading this I definitely want to visit Denmark. I have heard it is the happiest countries of the world and coming from a country that has also been named the happiest country in the world, but that has so many differences in various ways it is amazing. To begin with Colombia had an internal war occurring until recently for more than 50 years, which in my opinion it would probably lead to social issues and worries that people in Denmark wouldn’t have. Also, not everyone in Colombia trusts the government, as most politicians in Colombia have been known to be corrupt, something that is completely opposite in Denmark. Finally, post-secondary education is not free in Colombia and even though our healthcare system is really amazing, it is not free either but your payments dependent on the amount of wealth, socioeconomic status, of the individual. Something that we do share, is that usually Colombian only work 40-50 hours per week, and work is left at work, as the culture emphasizes the importance of family as well as the importance of having time to share with your community. Which is why I believe that the emphasis on enjoying leisure are what create lack of stress in both communities and therefore makes both of this countries be part of the happiest countries of the world.

  35. Kalley Friederichs

    Thank you Michaela for sharing your experience with us! It sounds like you had a really fun time! I have a few family friends from Denmark who very happy. positive people that I greatly admire. Reading your post gave me a better understanding as to why they may be so happy. Free healthcare and secondary education would be very nice and make me a happy person, especially as current college student.

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