Monday, February 18, 2008

The Happiest Place on Earth

Did anyone catch “60 Minutes” on TV last night? They did a piece on Denmark having the “Happiest People in the World.”

This is according to research by Adrian White, analytic social psychologist at the University of Leicester in England.

Happiness is not walking around with a large smile on your face, but rather contentment with the quality of life. It seems the Danes do not smile a lot and are rather a reserved bunch.

They do ride bikes a lot, and that is part of the contentment. Being content with riding a bicycle to work each day, instead of jamming up the streets of their tiny country with automobiles, and spending large amounts of money on gas.

It seems that once an individual has a home, food, and clothing, extra money does not make them any happier. It appears what people want is good health care, and free education.

Out of the 177 countries listed, here is the top ten:

1. Denmark
2. Switzerland
3. Austria
4. Iceland
5. Bahamas
6. Finland
7. Sweden
8. Bhutan
9. Brunei Darussalam
10. Canada

The Netherlands were they also ride bikes a lot, came in 15th; a lot better than the USA at 23, and Australia at 26. The UK came in at 41 and France at 62.

I found it interesting that one of those interviewed on 60 Minutes, said it helped that Denmark was not a world power. I can see that, the government spending money on its own people instead of helping out the rest of the world.

This also made me wonder about the UK and France, both world powers back in history. Are they spending money trying to live up to a former image?

The Danes work a 37 hour week, take six weeks vacation a year, so it seems leisure time is more important to them than extra cash. In spite of having some of the highest taxes anywhere and a not too good a climate the people of Denmark are content with their lot.

It appears that extreme capitalism does not bring people happiness, neither does extreme socialism. Former communist Russia came in at 167. The answer lies somewhere in between.

So what can we do as individuals to make the quality of our lives better? We can hardly change our country, when the majority mind set is one of materialism. Bigger and better homes and cars, etc. And we can’t all move to Denmark, I get the impression they’re pretty crowded already.

We can however, if we choose, opt out of the rat-race. Work less, earn less, and spend less on material stuff. Far be it for me to say what an individual should or should not do, this is just some food for thought.


Anonymous said...

Good Stuff, Dave. A dose of reality for my morning blog-reading.

As someone who's attempted to opt out of the rat race, I'll say it's an ongoing process. The rat race state of mind is endemic to my home of New York City, and resisting it takes concentration.

Anonymous said...

Artificial intelligence to the rescue? Our brains can be implanted with tech devices programmed for happiness or Google thoughts.

Cars, highways, remote controls, fast food, leveraged consumption, headline insights,...the American pathway to joy and happiness is proceeding. What Me Worry?

Anonymous said...

60 Minutes briefly mentioned that Denmark has one of the narrowest gaps between the richest and poorest people. That has to be the key. It's this widening gap that's causing all the problems in the unhappy countries. If every nation worked toward narrowing this gap, the world would be a better place.

akahn said...

You should take a look at some statistics on the U.S. budget if you think that the money the government doesn't spend on its citizens goes toward "helping" people around the world.

Anonymous said...


Your blog site is truly inspirational and I have enjoyed your talents in the industry over time. A former junior racer in the Eddie B days, your skills were highly sought after.

This article struck a core of mine since lately, I have turned toward an appreciation of mindfulness and awareness through mediation. Only if those individuals who are so money hungry that they distance themselves from others could take the time to appreciate life and its beauty. It simplicity and usefulness to all, we would not widen the gap that we and other nations are in today's present state.

VintageSpin said...

Ah that elusive term Happiness. Is Happiness a pursuit or a goal to reach? Does it define a feeling or something more tangible?
Are only stupid people that accept their lot in life happy, or can people that endlessly strive to change things happy?
Like Sisyphus our greatest endeavor can be the most frustrating yet the most satisfying. Riding a bike-when are you ever in good enough shape? Why do we wash our cars knowing they will be dirty in a week? Aren’t we still pursuing that vanishing point?
Stay Hungry rather than Be Happy.
Beware the religion that professes to be The Happiest People on Earth, or the self-help Happiness gurus and their never-ending supply of wisdom.
The universe seems to be one of conflict and opposing forces. There has to be sadness for there to be happiness.
Happiness may never be obtained, but then maybe it shouldn’t.

Anonymous said...

Evertime I try to opt out of the capitalist rat race, the socialists in this country (USA) come after even more of my money via higher taxes, or expensive regulations, forcing me back into the rat race!!

Chunk said...

20/20 dedicated an entire show to this very same topic a couple months ago.

One big element to Denmark's collective happiness was reported to be the very high rate of taxation which goes to fund everything from education to health care to various clubs such as a cycling club or a model railroad group.

Because of this, the 20/20 folks said that there's less emphasis on what you do as a career since everyone gets the same benefits. As an example they profiled a garbage man who knew everyone on his route and the Prince of Denmark who's studying as a carpenter's apprentice.

The most interesting thing of all were the shots of mothers leaving their babies outside of stores unattended and unharmed.

Guess everyone in Denmark knows it isn't cool to steal a baby.

Ron George said...


There is no single number that can state the happiness of an individual or a group of individuals.

I saw a very similar show on TV about Denmark long time ago but I can't remember what it was called and on which channel it appeared in.

Some of the things I noted in that show about Denmark were :

1. Its simple society life and high standard of living
2. Its progressive welfare reforms, flexible labor market etc.
3. High income tax (encouraging redistribution of income perhaps)
4.. Very large public sector, with high Unionization.
5. Free schooling and health care (sort of like Germany)
6. Very liberal policing, especially with drugs, alcohol and prostitution (legal). The video showed special 'cafes' on the street where one could walk in and smoke some grass, and police were at times friends with these people.
7. Low crime rates compared with the U.S.A

With respect to #6, the government's liberal drug policies almost seems to reflect an idea that minimal control along with drug free programs, as opposed to strict restraining or curbing of those vices, makes people happier and provides a chance for them to abstain..

Due to its free society, and liberal policies on media of expression, sex, religion etc, numerous people from other countries, particularly asylum seekers, take refuge in Denmark (such as Africans)

Denmark is also apparently very green in terms of energy generation and consumption. Its the world leader in wind power, and its government provides ample grants for developers.

All this, again, was a while back, but I wonder how much things could change in a matter of a decade.

Marla said...

I have a cousin that is in Switzerland, the #2 country on the list, with his family and they love it there. I think they would stay if it weren't for the family back here.

They've definitely got something right going on over there.

David Killick said...

Wise words indeed. Thanks. I stepped off the treadmill 12 months ago, left the big city, bought a smaller house, took a 30% pay cut and a job I like far more.

The things that are important to me in my life are my relationships, time to ride my bike and paddle my kayak and sit under a tree and ponder.

Too many people become a slave to acquiring status or worthless material goods that don't have any effect on their happiness or welbeing. Forget that, I'm sitting here having a beer contemplating my retirement in five years at 45.

Anonymous said...

I've been experiencing something similar myself. I live in a climate where people don't get out much during the winter months, resulting in "cabin fever" for many at this time of year (half way through winter). I forced myself to start cycling and commuting by bike again, despite the -30 to -40 temperatures, and although I haven't been smiling (too painful with the frostbite) I've been content and grinning inside. Being on a bike, being outside, really does contribute to contentment and happiness, frostbite not withstanding.

danc said...

ABC News articles on the same study:

Denmark: The Happiest Place on Earth (Despite High Taxes, Danes Rank Themselves as Happy and Content)

Anonymous said...

That's the truth (speaking of the "rat race"). Less than 10 years ago was a time in my life which I would consider among the happiest. I worked about 35 hours per week and earned about 15k per year and slept on my best friend's sofa. During the summer, I would spend about 10-12 hours per week riding singletrack on my old steel Gary Fisher. I drove a 10 year old civic with a $600 roof rack so that I could bring friends along to the trails. I was a mountain bike evangelist. You might say a bike bum. I looked forward to the day I had enough money saved to trade in the old fishy for a new IF. (Yes, really.) It was not a long-term way to live, but it sure felt good.
Today I live in a house with a non-trivial New Jersey style mortgage payment. I have multiple times the income I did then. I still have the old fishy, but there's no dirt between the knobs. My version bike excitement is looking forward to commuting to work on the 20 year old road bike which I bought from craigslist last fall. Nope, money doesn't buy happiness.

Anonymous said...

I'd be happy too if I had all those good looking, bike riding women around me, my version of B squared (beer, babe and a bike). On a serious note (ok, I was serious on a more serious note), we all would be much happier if we focused on what mattered to us most and not what mattered to our neighbors most. My one year old grandson lives with me and when I play with him, he shows me exactly what simple happiness is all about.

Anonymous said... make that B cubed.

Anonymous said...

"I found it interesting that one of those interviewed on 60 Minutes, said it helped that Denmark was not a world power. I can see that, the government spending money on its own people instead of helping out the rest of the world."

Actually that's totally wrong. Denmark is in fact one of the greatest contributors of foreign aid to nations in need based on a per capita rate. Danes take great pride in their fortunate economic situation and I believe they look upon it as their duty to share some of their good fortune with less fortunate people, even if they happen to live in nations outside their own. The US by the way is rather average in their foreign aid, particularly when you account for the per capita wealth of Americans.

Colville-Andersen said...

It's true. I'm happy.

For some reason Denmark always ranks number 1 in this annual survey. Go figure. But i think that generally we are happy. It's a society of trust and community. I know that my tax money goes to keeping the bike lanes and roads and trains running smooth, the hospitals free, etc.

I remember reading that if you took the financial worth of the top 10% in America and divided it up among the other 90%, each person would get a new house. In Denmark, if you did the same, the 90% would get six eggs.

There are wealthy people in Denmark, of course, living the high life. But they are taxed accordingly and that benefits everyone.

The five to six weeks of holiday every years are thanks to the unions, but they are used, by and large, to spend time with the family.

Colville-Andersen said...

For clarity, it isn't just Denmark that has this model. It's a Scandinavian thing, encompassing Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, too. 22 million people in all.

blue squirrel said...

thanks dave for the food for thought, i have been trying to stay on that diet. living in hollywood makes it a tad bit harder, or easier, as materialism is so rampant among the liberal elite here [contradiction in terms i believe, or is it a oxymoron?].

now to stoop low and talk politics.

i don't have cable or SAT tv, so i did not watch it, but i did read about it. did they mention that a good majority of denmark [correct me if i am wrong zak, but even socialist leader Villy Søvndal is upset], along with most of the scandinavian [i spend 1 month a year in sweden] and european counties , there is an undercurrent of discontentment with the influx of immigrants that do not want to assimilate to the very cool culture we are talking about.

zakkaliciousness- huh, taxing those who are successful, to help benefit those that MAY not want to try as hard, simply not an ideal the founding fathers had for america. freedom has a price, its called hard work [or work as much as you like]. take away the freedom to choose ones path in life and force another on them and you take away their basic human desires to strive to create something. just ask an old east german from the DDR, $25 rent was great, but the rest of life had no meaning.

Colville-Andersen said...

from an anthropological point of view, it is a fact of human nature that not everyone wants to 'try as hard' as you may want to do.

as members of the same society, we look out for each other in Scandinavia, respecting the fact that those who simply don't possess the same drive as others are still our neighbours and helping them out is the only right thing to do.

regarding the rioting youths of late, perhaps it's a two way street. perhaps society has let them down by not wishing to integrate them and merely expecting them to assimilate.

regardless, i'm still happy. as is Villy Sovndal.

blue squirrel said...

well put zakkaliciousness, we can all learn from each other. i just prefer the method of helping each other out personally with a helping hand or charity, not state sponsored charity. i believe in the rights of the individual over the collective. i have spent half my life on our family farm, i have seen first hand the responsibility of the local community and how more effective it is in helping those in need, far better than the demands or methods of a central government. americans are a proud group of individuals, ones that give close to over 100 fold more in personal donations to charitable causes around the world, than any central government in the world does. in the end, if you and i were to share a fika', we would find out that we are very similar in our goals for a good life.

p.s. i was referring to way sovndal stood up for the very danish lifestyle that was rated #1, in his comments on the hizb-ut-tahrir.

Yokota Fritz said...

Dave, Denmark has a good history of egalitarianism which I think helps a lot with Danish contentment. As others noted, the divide between rich and poor isn't as great as in other nations (such as the USA). Danes also seem to have done a good job of instilling the Golden Rule into their children, to not be selfish, materialistic ninnies.

I don't know if former "world power" status is any predictor of happiness: Denmark had a colonial empire and waged resource wars just like the other western European nations and even holds a remnant of its empire in Greenland.

Another factor to think about is Denmark's racial homogenity -- 91% of Danes are of Danish descent, they all speak the same language and have the same culture and grew up in the same church, so they simply don't have the challenges faced by more diverse societies.

danc said...

Not everyone can move to Denmark but this "Happiest Place" on Earth can set right between your ears, see (better yet read) Daniel Gilbert: Stumbling on Happiness

Anonymous said...

Although you make some good points this is just plain wrong: "grew up in the same church".
Although 83 percent of the Danish population are members of the state church (yes we have a such medieval concept, although you are free to leave it and free to not give a f***) less than 5 percent of the population are regular churchgoers. Denmark is one of the most secular contries in the world and strong religious beliefs are widely regarded as weird, uninformed and in conflict with reality - be they Christian, Islamic or whatever.

Yokota Fritz said...

Yes Anon4:24, I'm aware of the religious attitudes of Danes. You've missed the point, though, which is that the majority of Danes have a very common cultural background, and those from other backgrounds are labeled or even ostracized or shunned as "weird, uninformed and in conflict with reality."

blue squirrel said...

- fritz you make a very insightful and astute observation.
i have always said to friends that want to copy [exclusively] the scandinavian cultural model here in the usa, that the reason their system works, is that, well, they are all scandinavian [the lutheran church's morals, charity, selflessness, and modesty have been a huge part of the scandinavian culture, that even if a modern dane goes to church or not, they have been influenced by it, in a way that new immigrants have not]. of course the scandinavian culture is part of the american lexicon, just not exclusively. i think the system our founding fathers laid out for our melting pot [even back then] is as close to perfect for us. over the centuries, people have come to america for one real reason, to map out their own future, without the heavy hand of a central government or religion getting in the way. [don't confuse self-determination with selfishness].

isn't this a blog about bikes? the cool thing about both the american and danish cultures is that we can all go ride bikes together or wave in passing and still be civil. i hope you all choose to go ride.

Yokota Fritz said...

"the cool thing about both the american and danish cultures is that we can all go ride bikes together or wave in passing and still be civil." That's my idea too -- I enjoy almost all kinds of cycling. Mike Flanigan (the ANT Bike Mike guy) told me recently that while he has his own strong opinions about what biking is, he also isn't arrogant enough to believe that his is the only true path of cycling :-)

I love Zakka's Copenhagen blog showing what's possible, but he gets a pretty negative when it comes to discussing Euro style sport cycling, implying it's only for the mentally ill and telling us outright that we should sue Greg LeMond for destroying utility cycling in the USA.

Roman Holiday said...

But don't forget, the tax rate in Denmark is ~ 50%. So, the health care & schools are not really "free".

I agree with you, good health is the most important thing is life besides a warm bike. Nice posting.

Anonymous said...

Good chat freinds. Dave, you've hit the gold mine.

Unknown said...

I'm originally from NYC where I started a very stressful career in print production while in my early 20's. It lasted 17 years 10 of which were spent in SF during the "dot com" boom. I kid you not there were days when on my drive home (which was only 7 minutes long) I would scream to the top of my lungs and slam my fist into the headliner of my SUV!

deep breath.

I am now a woodworker in Portland, OR. Much less money but I truly enjoy what I do. I will be buying Dave's book as feel it will inspire me in my current career.

Out of the rat race and a cyclist again to boot! BEST of all I bought a 1984 FUSO yesterday!!!!

Peace to all