For seven consecutive years, Denmark has consistently topped the charts in the World Happiness Report.
Although happiness is subjective and an elusive concept to quantify, researchers define it as “the satisfaction with the way an individual life’s going”, according to Jeff Sachs, co-creator of the World Happiness Report and a professor at Columbia University.
So, what is the secret to the Danish’s model of happiness?
1. Life Comes Before Work
A 9 to 5 workday week is a shared commitment we bound ourselves to. It entails racing against time to clear emails, crafting presentation decks, attending meetings all day and checking off to-do lists on sticky notes.
More strikingly, what underpins the work culture and its impact on happiness is the Danes’ attitude towards long working hours. We often associate long working hours with more outstanding accomplishments and a way of getting ahead. In Denmark, working long hours demonstrates a sign of incompetency — that a person can’t complete their tasks within the workweek — according to Xander Mellish, a Danish author of “How to Work in Denmark”.
Cathy Strongman, a journalist who moved to Copenhagen from London once said,
“Work later than 5:30 and the office is a morgue. Work at the weekend and the Danes think you are mad.”
To be efficient as possible probably explains why socialisation or taking breaks to run errands during working hours is a rare sight in Denmark, says Mellish.
Takeaway: work is essential, but it matters just as much as the quality you produce. Make full use of your time at work so that you don’t accumulate a backlog of unfinished tasks and you’re able to enjoy more free time afterwards.
When necessary, take a break from work to recharge or indulge in activities that make you happy.
2. Paid Vacations are Guaranteed
Notwithstanding a person’s job position in the company or field of work, Denmark guarantees its full-time employees five weeks of vacation time. And it’s paid.
A visit to a Danish office during the last weeks of July may greet you with locked doors because businesses are primarily closed during this time of the year as the Danes take their time off their short Danish summer.
In the U.S., only workers who have five years of working experiences have 15 days of paid vacation leave, and according to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2018, 55% of Americans aren’t using their paid time off.
As we’ve seen, Danish people don’t just live to work, maintaining the right work-life balance is essential to them, and employers understand that concept as well.
Takeaway: use up all your paid (or unpaid) time off. You’re not a robot who can work relentlessly around the clock. Give yourself credit when it’s due by rewarding your hard work. After all, “What the science shows us is that the one thing that will make us happy is having a little bit more time,” Laurie Santos, a professor at Yale teaching The Science of Wellbeing, said.
Oh, and while you’re away on vacation, make sure you’re free from distractions by putting away your work phone and laptop. You don’t want to hear your cellphone chiming each time an email pops up. Otherwise, you’re better off being back in the office while others enjoy their vacations suntanning on the beach.
3. The Nation’s Welfare Thrives on Taxes
Although Denmark has one of the highest tax in the world, it fundamentally underpins the nation’s wellbeing. The Danes pay high taxes — for instance, a 25% sales tax and a 150% tax on cars — but receive universal health care, social security, universal pension, public education (including college), and daycare in return.
Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute, mentioned that “We are not paying taxes, rather, we’re investing in our society. We are purchasing a better quality of life.”
As compared to most other people, Danes have less to worry about in daily life, and it’s foundational in terms of laying the basis for enjoying higher levels of happiness.
As we’ve just read, the secret to happiness is simple.
A country like Denmark builds upon a comprehensive understanding of its nation’s wellbeing that grants them the ability to identify inequalities, understand them and assess the link in the happiness gap.
Thank you for reading!