Recently there was a feature on Oprah showing Denmark having the happiest people on Earth. I am a Dane, but in retrospect I was never too happy living there. I now live in the US. Obviously, there are some aspects I prefer about Denmark compared to the US such as its health care system. However, overall, Denmark is not the best place for ambitious individuals with a plan to pull off an early retirement or do what Americans call awesome(*) stuff. I consider the likelihood of me ever returning permanently to be small.
(*) Okay, Americans tend to call everything including their breakfast “awesome” 😉
First, the Oprah segment basically showed the upper middle class of Copenhagen. What you saw was not typical—the apartment shown is currently on sale for 1.25 million dollars, very few live like that(*), but the attitudes presented are typical of the “educated”-segment, that is, about 40% of the population —especially those with safe government positions, which is a lot.
(*) Your general suburban house outside the capital cost somewhere between $200k and $400k.
Comparably speaking, Danes spend a lot of their money on housing (the houses are really well built) and so less on stuff to fill the houses simply because they have less money left.
To say that everyone is lean from riding bicycles is an exaggeration to say the least. Still, the body shape that is considered average in the US is considered overweight in … well, pretty much the rest of the world. And so on. Danes would be considered slighlty chubby on average compared to Eastern Europeans who seem to eat better (less meat and less processed food).
There is universal health care, universal education, and universal unemployment “insurance”. It is true that there are very few homeless (all drug addicts). The streets are safe, but don’t leave an unlocked bicycle anywhere(!). The Danes are not violent but many are not exactly honest standup citizens either. The priority is on vacation and leisure time, not work time—this is because marginal tax rates are extreme, so why bother work, and because unions are strong, which means that those who do have a job get a lot of vacation time but conversely that unemployment is high. Is this a good thing? It is if you have a job.
Religion is very weak. This is due to socioeconomics (nobody needs to find meaning in religion) and due to historical reasons. The Danes always were a pagan bunch and expediently “believed” in whatever their king subscribed to. The institution of marriage has been resigned to tradition. People have children way before they get married, if they get married at all. Anyone who lives together for two years is pretty much considered effectively married, that is, they have the same rights as officially married people. Denmark was the one of the first if not the first country to legalize gay marriage. Frankly, nobody really cares. Humanism is fairly high; relative to GDP Denmark is one of the largest contributors of foreign aid.
What’s not to like? The downside is a resulting small-town mentality(*) with its low tolerance for individuality, being different or standing out, a low tolerance for ambition, very low levels of entrepreneurism, a smug belief that it is the best country in the world (well, you see that in the US as well, except in the US it’s not smug 😉 ), and few opportunities as it is a small country.
(*) This is readily apparent to me having been born there and lived outside the country for 10 years.
Everybody gets the same average (mediocre?) education regardless of whether they are talented or not. In other words, if “average” is goal, this is a great country as pretty much everything will steer you towards _average_. In that regard, for instance, the school system does not give out “awards” for anything which is in direct contrast to the US system.
However, it can be shown that happiness mainly stems from comparison to the neighbors and so if the neighbor is average and you are too, it makes you happy. This, I believe, is the main reason why the majority of Danes are happy. There are, however, a few extreme guys there and they have a hard time being happy in such an environment and so they emigrate.
How to become a Dane: You can become a citizen by living there for 7 years. You can do that with any EU passport (open borders). I know you can marry a EUropean, obviously. I do not know of other ways, but getting a job there can work; I suppose it is similar to the US. Check your nearest embassy/consulate. If you do want to immigrate I would recommend not bringing any or much of your own culture with you as this is frowned upon. Verily, the Danes are very tolerant but only if you’re exactly like them, yes?
Originally posted 2009-10-23 12:30:23.