According to the 2013 World Happiness Report commissioned for the UN Conference on Happiness, Denmark is the world’s happiest country. In the past, countries relied solely on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a guiding principle of their policies. However, in July of 2011 the UN General Assembly invited countries to measure the happiness of their people and urged countries to put happiness on the global agenda.
Through the report, happiness is measured in two ways: as an emotion and as an evaluation in the sense of life satisfaction. For example, a very poor person might report himself as emotionally happy but having a lower sense of happiness with life as a whole. This report should motivate societies to work harder to end extreme poverty.
Columbia University’s Earth Institute found that Denmark was the happiest country in the first World Happiness Report published in 2012, followed by Finland, Norway, and the Netherlands. The 2013 World Happiness Report published by the U.N. Sustainable Development Solutions Network showed a similar trend, Scandinavian countries are the happiest in the world.
Among North American countries, Canada took sixth place, while Mexico was ranked 16, just slightly happier than the U.S. at 17th out of 156 countries.
How could it be that the countries with fewer than seven hours of daylight during the winter months have the highest happiness in the world?
According to John Helliwell, contributing author of the 2013 report and economics professor at the University of British Columbia, “The top countries generally rank higher in all six of the key factors identified in the World Happiness Report.” These six factors include a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth, a lack of corruption in leadership, a sense of social support, freedom to make life choices, and a culture of generosity.
Along with these six factors, the Huffington Post reports some of the added measures that Denmark’s government takes to reaffirm their citizens’ happiness in the article “Denmark is Considered the Happiest Country. You’ll Never Guess Why.” Some of these added measures are:
1.Family Support-Danish families receive a total of 52 weeks parental leave. Mothers are able to take 18 weeks while fathers receive two weeks of 100 percent salary. The rest of the paid time off is up to the family to use when they want. In addition to getting 52 weeks of parental leave, Denmark supplies parents with free or low-cost child care. Since this allows young mothers to return to work, 79% of mothers return to their previous level of employment.
2. Frequent Health Care Visits- Danish people are in touch with their primary care physician an average of seven times a year. Compared to Americans who only seek medical care an average of fewer than four times per year (including emergency care), people in Denmark have a single advocate who helps with continual care.
3. Gender Equality-Nordic countries were the first to provide women with the right to vote, with Denmark passing this right in 1915. While no country in the world has achieved gender equality, Denmark is coming close. They even currently have their first female prime minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt.
4. Biking is the Main Form of Transportation- In Copenhagen, Denmark’s largest city, bikes account for 50% of its residents’ trips to school or work. Biking not only saves hundreds of dollars a year but also adds an average of one to two years of life expectancy for every 30 minutes.
5. ‘Hygge’- Hygge, or cultivated coziness, is how the Danish look on the bright side and overcome their depressing, dark winters. Some describe ‘hygge’ as a cozy scene, full of love and indulgence. In her NPR article “Winter Doldrums Got You Down? Have Some Hygge,” Claire O’Neill describes ‘hygge’ as, “Fireplace warmth with candles and family and friends and food, tucked under blankets on a snowy day, cup-of- coffee conversation, scarf-snuggle, squiggly, warm baby love.”
6. Collective Responsibility- More than 40% of all Danes do voluntary work in cultural and sports organizations, NGO’s, social organizations, political organizations, etc. Beyond volunteering, political citizen participation is high as well. During the last election in September 2011, 87.7% of the country voted, the highest rating for democratic governments.
As you can see, Denmark is not simply the happiest country for its amazing landscapes, but has many valuable policies in place that other countries should study and adopt in hopes of following their lead.