[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
What can the Danes teach us about happiness?
The Magazine answers...

The Little Mermaid
Denmark is famed for Andersen, Schmeichel and extreme happiness
Danes are the happiest people in Europe, a survey suggests. But what is the secret of their contentedness?

Something is markedly unrotten in the state of Denmark.

Asked to rate both their happiness and long-term life satisfaction, Danish people trounce their European cousins.

Many in Denmark put this regularly-surveyed contentedness down to a dynamic economy and a pleasant work-life balance, with people leaving the office on time, jumping on effective public transport and heading off to pick up their delightful children from a shiny, well-run kindergarten.

But there are others out to savage the myth of the happy Dane, arguing that low expectations of life account for their unusually happy disposition.

To be well off, have a better work-life balance and good public services, and, possibly, to lower our expectations

Kevin McGwin, from Maine in the US, works on the Copenhagen Post newspaper, and is well-used to surveys suggesting the Danish love of life. It could all be down to a pleasant quality of life, he suggests.

"Denmark is very consumer-oriented and very family-oriented. People are sure to leave work at 4.30pm. They work their eight hours and go home. Pressure to work overtime doesn't exist."

Denmark has a 37-hour week. Parents get 52 weeks of maternity/paternity leave to be shared between them - 24 weeks is usually at full pay, with the rest often at as much as 90% pay. Much of it can be spread over the first nine years of the child's life. Childcare is subsidised with no parent being asked to pay more than 25% of the cost.

A regular feature in the BBC News Magazine - aiming to answer some of the questions behind the headlines

Danish ambassador to London Birger Riis-Jorgensen says he doesn't find it surprising Danes rate themselves as happy.

"In other parts of Europe globalisation is perceived as a threat. For Danes, 78% think globalisation is an opportunity.

"We have high taxes but we have generous unemployment benefits, a lot of life-long learning. We feel secure and we feel that we have opportunities.

"We have a lot of faith in government as an institution. The authorities are normally competent, uncorrupt and approachable."

Danish metro
Public transport is ominously clean

Danes fundamentally believe their state is well run, Mr Riis-Jorgensen says, but citizens are still capable of complaining when there are problems with public services.

"If 5% of trains are running late it is a political problem."

And the safe streets of Copenhagen can be a surprise to foreign visitors.

"When foreigners are finding out they can safely let their children bike to school in the suburbs of Copenhagen they get pretty amazed."

But a study by the University of Southern Denmark earlier this year found success in happiness surveys might be down to low expectations.

Fears not realised

Researcher Kaare Christensen looked back over three decades of surveys that had created the legend of the "happy Dane".

"In countries such as Italy and Spain, people have much higher expectations for what the coming year will bring, but they're not especially happy or satisfied with their existence."

But Danes take a more realistic view of life, he suggested at the time.

"Year after year we're just happy that things didn't go as badly as we'd feared."

And even McGwin, who is married to a Dane, is sceptical that Danes' happiness is all its cracked up to be.

"The weather here is pretty lousy and half the year it's dark. They are as depressed as Hamlet some days."

Below is a selection of your comments.

A country like Denmark, with clean streets, straight forward laws, simple tax systems, easy going health care, nice easy going work hours and work practices. Not to mention lower prices on goods in the shops..... I can't think what they've got to be happy about.... no, I can't work it out, you're going to have to help me with this, it has me stumped.
Jon, Nottingham

I was a student in Copenhagen for 2 years and worked there for another 2 years. I used to commute everyday by public transport and it was hardly ever on time. Cancellations were very common during rush hour. Danes dont expect much out of life - their medical care is free and so is the children's education - they are content with that. However, for someone more ambitious, Denmark is just not the place. While in university, we would term Denmark as a modern communist state! Denmark suffers from its own 'brain drain' - which prompted me also to shift base to The Netherlands.
Vikram Saini, The Hague, The Netherlands

Seems to be correct, I am currently living in Norway where they have the same benefits and their balance of work and private life is perfect. It is an excellent socail enviroment and to me the UK is years behind.

I would never let my children wonder around in the UK but in Scandanavia it is not a problem. The Brits need to learn a lot and get rid of the yob society.
Kenneth Muirhead, Stavanger, Norway

The Danish welfare state is one of the most cherished parts of Danish society: you rarely find people here that want to remove it entirely. Reform it, yes, but not remove it. It takes away the worries one might have about education, health, children, unemployment, and so on, and the effect is like that of a tranquillizer.

Unfortunately, the implications of this were the economic recessions in Denmark throughout the eighties and nineties, but the formula for the welfare drug has been changed slightly to accommodate the changing times and the economy is going strong again.
SImon Gray, Alsgarde, Denmark

I suspect that the high level of cycling is one important factor. Around 50% of Danish children's journeys aged 10-15 are by cycle (compared to 2% in UK) so that Danish children have the freedom to visit friends without their parents. A survey of Danish commuters found that cycling was the most enjoyable of all forms of transport and cycling has been shown to reduce depression.
Patrick Lingwood, Bedford

The question is, do they have a Danish version of the Daily Mail? I am convinced that most people are unhappy in this country because they are being constantly told what to worry about.
Emma, UK

I was in Copenhagen 2 years ago, just about everyone I met was a gloomy alchoholic with a short temper. I'm sure, deep down, they're all really happy tho...
James, London

Having moved over here from London, I do think this an interesting debate. Yes, the Danes do have slightly lower expectations, but they since they already live in such a remarkably clean and [relatively] trouble-free place, why should they need to expect more?
Fiorella, Vejle, Denmark

As a Dane who did some college research on Danes' happiness index in the early eighties I am skeptical. It would be interesting to juxta pose these researches with figures of alcohol, drug and sex abuse which are amongst the highest in the world. And take a close look at the suicide rates of women aged 25-40. Finally Danes tend to be proud and taught not to complain (it is considered selfish) and would without blinking pretend to be more happy than they actually are. There is a fair amount of denial and spiritual bankruptcy in my country. Something still rotten in the state of Denmark the way I see it.
Karl Andersson, Copenhagen

Approach to eduction might also be a factor. Many Danes study well into their late twenties, giving them time to find out what is right for them to do in life. I would also suggest that these surveys must always be carried out during the summer months, as the diference in the people's mood here is striking!
David E, Irish, living in Copenhagen

That would be low expectations. Finland came second, you see. Pretty good ranking for the unhappiest place I know. We have huge rates of unemployment (about double the governement figure), extremely high taxes and very little to show for it. Our wages are usually half those of the British. I've seen most European countries and the Finnish standard of life lags well behind most industrial countries.
JJ, Varsinais Suomi, Finland

I recently returned from a 4 day break in Copenhagen over Easter and have to say that the Metro system there knocks London's into a cocked hat in terms of cleanliness, modernity and cost. The driverless trains looked like something out of Star Trek and were quiet and fast. You could not fault them. As for the City itself, I must admit to finding the much vaulted waterfront to be a bit sterile and stark but, of course, still impeccably designed.
Jeff Bronstein, London

Danes are happy because they voted to stay out of the Euro.
Peter Hopkins, Leeds

Public transport ominously clean? You have obviously never travelled on the mobile ashtray train that travels between Kastrup Airport and Helsingor. Fag ash, Tuborg cans and discarded newspapers make this one of the dirtiest modes of transport I have ever been on
Andy, Market Drayton, Shropshire

If I lived in a country populated by 6ft blonde bombshells, I'd be pretty happy too.
Joe Spencer, London


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific