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When you picture the happiest place in the world, you might imagine white-sand beaches and swaying palm trees.

But it turns out the happiest place is a bit different . . .

Welcome to Denmark, a small country of nearly six-million people. No tropical beaches here, just rain, for about fifty percent (50%) of the year.

But despite the weather, this country still maintains a sunny disposition. So sunny in fact, it’s been named “The Happiest Country in the World”.

Jeffery Sachs, Economist: “What we find when we study happiness in the world is that the definition is quite similar.”

Jeffery Sachs is an author of the United Nations Happiness Report, which ranks the happiness of one-hundred-fifty-six (156) countries, and consistently places Denmark at or near the top of the list.

Jeffery Sachs, Economist: “People want to live well. They want to have money in their pockets and in the bank. They want to trust their government. They want to be healthy.”

Last year, America came in thirteenth place, behind Israel, and just a few notches ahead of Mexico and Brazil.

It’s a ranking that might leave us scratching our heads. Americans love to chant, “We’re Number One!” But we aren’t always.

What does Denmark have that we don’t?

Journalist: “Free healthcare?”
Mike Viking, CEO, The Happiness Institute: “Uh muh.”
Journalist: “Free education?”
Mike Viking, CEO, The Happiness Institute: “Yes.”
Journalist: “What about maternity leave?”
Mike Viking, CEO, The Happiness Institute: “I think it’s twelve months, parents can share.”
Journalist: “Paid?”
Mike Viking, CEO, The Happiness Institute: “Five weeks of paid vacation per year. It’s not bad.”
Journalist: “It’s not bad?”

Mike Viking is the CEO of The Happiness Institute located in Copenhagen.

Journalist: “How can we be as happy as you guys?”
Mike Viking, CEO, The Happiness Institute: “If I have to give one reason, it’s the welfare state. It is focused on reducing extreme unhappiness, and investing in public goods that create quality of life for all.”

But this comes at a steep cost: Danes pay more income tax than any other nationality — as much as sixty percent (60%).

Mike Viking, CEO, The Happiness Institute: “If you ask Danes, ‘Are you happy paying your taxes?’ eight out of ten will say, ‘Yes, to some degree, I’m happy paying my taxes’.

And I think that’s because people are aware of the huge benefits they get in terms of quality of life.”

Jeffery Sachs says there are other benefits too, like the fact that Denmark has the highest income equality and the lowest poverty rates in any Western nation.

Jeffery Sachs, Economist: “Basically social mobility is high because the obstacles are very, very low. You’re given the basics for a healthy, productive life.”

Journalist: “What do you say to someone who is like, ‘Yeah, but that’s socialism! And we’re Americans!’”

Jeffery Sachs, Economist: “I say that’s what they call ‘social democracy’. The idea is we’re a market economy. We’re privately owned. We’d better compete, so they have to be at the top of the game in technology, in research and development, in science, in quality of education.”

While Denmark excels in these areas, not everyone would call it a utopia.

Journalist: “Danish people don’t strike me so much as cheerful; it’s just that they’re content. Everything’s fine.”
Mike Viking, CEO, The Happiness Institute: “Yeah. You can say ‘we’re the happiest country in the world; I like to say, ‘we’re the least unhappy’.”

Danes still face the same struggles as everyone else: the country has the highest cancer rate in the world, in part due to its smoking and drinking habits. Large parts of the population also suffer from alcoholism and depression.

Still, that hasn’t kept Americans like Deana Honor from moving here.

Journalist: “What surprised you the most about living in Denmark?”
Deana Honor, American in Denmark: “How much we liked it.”

Originally from Boston, she moved to Copenhagen in 2011 with her British husband, Richard, and their two sons.

They liked it so much, they decided to stay.

Deana Honor, American in Denmark: “Family-life balance has been phenomenally better, than it would be back in the US. The Danes leave work at five o’clock, and they’re home for dinner by five-thirty, So Richard is home for dinner, every single night.

We both agree that this is the best decision we’ve ever made as a family.”

The family has adopted two uniquely Danish philosophies that they say keeps Danes smiling a bit more than the rest of us.

Deana and Richard: “Hygge! Hygge! Hygge!”
Richard, British Husband: “Hygge’s great!”

Hygge encourages people to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

Richard, Briton in Denmark: “There’s no real translation into English — it’s a Danish phenomenon; it’s a Danish thing.

For quite a large part of the year, it gets quite gray here. It gets dark very early in the afternoon. And hygge, this sense of bringing light and warmth and friendship into a house, it’s trying to make things cozy and happy.”

The second uniquely Danish thing is called the Law of Jante. For Danes, that means living simply. Showing off wealth just isn’t their style.

Journalist: “It seems that in order for America to borrow from this Danish notion of happiness, Americans would have to give up things that are so prized, like exceptionalism and competitiveness.”

Deana Honor, American in Denmark: “Yeah, I struggled with that myself. I think maybe we need to focus a little bit more on helping others and taking others into consideration.

I don’t think that means abandoning the idea of the individual; I think that means finding more of a balance.”

It’s a philosophy that’s even mentioned on the government website, which says “Money isn’t as important as the social life here.”

So maybe the elusive secret to happiness isn’t that much of a secret after all.

Jeffery Sachs, Economist: “Philosophers have been telling us for millennia: ‘Don’t just chase the money.’ They’re right.

America’s richer, a lot richer, over the last fifty years. But we’ve not gotten happier.”

It’s worth pondering how we Americans can get our hygge on.

Richard Honor, Briton in Denmark: “We’ve learned to take each day as it comes a little bit more. And to not always be thinking about, ‘what’s next? What’s next? What’s next?’ I think career-wise, family-wise, school-wise.”

Deana Honor, American in Denmark: “So maybe we’re more Danish than we think.”

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Sad, Depressed. Most people probably think that people Scandinavian countries are the happiest in the world. Is this right or wrong?

Stress, Anxiety, Worry. Is the world happiness ranking determined by journalists and media outlets? Does the number one position always change?

Fear, Scared, Frightened. Parties, dancing, music, fast cars and great food makes people happy. Is this entirely true, mostly true, in the middle, yes and no, mostly false or entirely false?

Surprised, Shocked. Is everything in Denmark — education, healthcare, pensions — completely free?

Angry, Mad, Furious. Are the Danes happy, ecstatic, exuberant, always smiling, joking and laughing?

Tired, Exhausted, Fatigued. Is Denmark a “perfect” country?

Bored, Sleepy. Everyone in the United States wants to adopt Denmark’s system. All Americans love the Danish way of life. Is this correct or incorrect? Why do they feel this way?


Calm, Relaxed, Laid Back. How happy are people in your city or country? Ecstatic, very happy, generally happy, in the middle, both happy and unhappy, rather sad, miserable, or it depends?

Happy, Satisfied, Content. Who are the happiest people in your country? What group are the happiest? Is there a region that is the happiest in your country?

Freedom, Success. Who is the happiest person you know? Describe him or her.

Wonderful, Fantastic, Ecstatic. What might happen in the future?

Enchantment, Enlightenment, Enthrallment. How can people become happier? What are the keys or secrets to happiness?

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