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Monday 21st May 2018

Denmark tops chart on happiness

18th February 2008

They drink, they smoke, they eat heaps of herring and pay very high taxes, but Danes seem to be way ahead in - of all things - happiness, according to numerous surveys, reports the CBS news program "60 Minutes." That’s especially surprising since they are flanked by countries either richer or healthier than their own.


"If you ask people on the street where they think the happiest country in the world, they’ll say…tropical islands and nice places like Italy or Spain. Places with nice weather and good food. But in Europe, they’re actually the most unhappy people," the American "60 Minutes" program quoted Professor Kaare Christensen at the University of Southern Denmark as saying.

In 2006, Adrian White of the University of Leicester, used responses from 80,000 people worldwide to map out subjective well-being, and Denmark came out at the top. Close behind were Switzerland and Austria, with the United Kingdom at 41st and Burundi at the bottom. The most compelling determinant of happiness, White’s study found, was health, followed by prosperity and education.

But in his follow-up study "Why Danes Are Smug," Christensen found that his countrymen topped the list precisely because they’re so glum - and hence quite happy when things turn out not quite as miserably as they anticipated. Maybe the secret is low expectations.

"We made fun of [the study] by suggesting it could be because blondes have more fun. But then we could prove that the Swedes have more blondes than the Danes, and they were not as happy. So we tested different hypotheses," Christensen said. "What we basically figured out that although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations they were pretty modest."

Once a country becomes less powerful, he said, "at least the pressure’s off you, you know? And if you’re doing pretty well and once in awhile there’s outstanding, you’re very happy about it. But if your starting point is you should be outstanding, that’s not good."

Harvard psychology lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar, who teaches a course called "Positive Psychology," said the American dream - fuelled by immigrant mania and driven by yearning for bigger, better, and more - rarely yields much beyond… bigger, better, and more. It doesn’t bring happiness.

"There’s a lot of unhappiness on college campuses. And it’s not just at Harvard. Over 94 percent of college students nationwide are stressed and overwhelmed. And students are paying a very high price for this pressure," Ben-Shahar said. "The number one predictor of well-being is close friendships and close relationships…Much better predictor of well-being than affluence is."

Happiness "is about having realistic expectations. It’s about not trying to fit in more than we can handle. We can’t handle it all. We can’t have it all. But we can have a lot," Ben-Shahar said.


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