US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is a big proponent of Denmark, but is he focusing on the wrong things? Photo: Scott Olson/Scanpix
It’s the country that has been on the tip of Bernie Sanders’s tongue this campaign trail. The US senator consistently points to little ol' Denmark, a small country famous for the Little Mermaid, as a role model for how countries treat their working classes. When he brought Denmark up in the first Democratic presidential debate, his main rival Hillary Clinton responded by saying “we are not Denmark” but was quick to add “I love Denmark.”
So what is all the fuss about and what is America missing out on? I mean, so what if Denmark has been consistently voted as one of the happiest countries in the world for the past 40 years now. They pay high taxes and are socialists.
Didn’t Sanders get the memo that American ears tend to shrivel up and implode at the very mention of the words “socialist” and “high taxes”? Everyone knows that any extra information beyond those two words won’t pass the ear canal and into the brain for further consideration. So why does he bother using Denmark as an example?
But here’s a thought. What if we replaced the word “socialists” with “socializers” – would people be more open to finding out what makes up Danish wellbeing beyond their high taxes? If we looked at Danes as human beings, not as socialists, is there anything we could learn behind the label? What if there was more to Denmark than the politicians would have you believe?
Here are four little known facts about the Danish way and how Danes raise their children to be social – not socialist.
1. Danes are very empathic. They teach empathy to children. It starts in pre-school and is seen as just as important as teaching maths or Danish. All the recent science is pointing towards the fact that empathy is a key factor in happiness. It connects us to others and it is a skill that can be both learned and taught. In America, studies show that empathy levels have dropped 50 percent since the 1980s and ’90s while narcissism has increased twofold.
2. Danes love to play. “Leg godt”, which means “play well”, are the words behind the famous Danish brand Lego. Danes are big believers in the importance of unstructured play, which has been proven to reduce anxiety while improving self-control, negotiation skills, and socialization. Free play helps kids feel more in control of their lives. In America we continue to diminish recess and free play in favour of more structured class time and more standardized testing.
3. Danes don’t spank. Spanking has been illegal in Denmark for nearly 20 years. For most Danes, spanking is an unthinkable way of educating children. They have a very democratic approach to parenting. Their belief is that if you teach respect and act respectfully yourself then you too will be respected. Perhaps it’s no surprise that Denmark has also repeatedly been named one of the most peaceful countries in the world.
4. Danes value togetherness. The concept of hygge, which basically means to cozy around together, is a deep part of the Danish culture. Essentially it is drama-free time with family and friends. It is highly respected and everyone makes an effort to make it happen. That results in “we time” not “me time”. Danes work together to enjoy the moment and the company rather than fighting, competing or complaining. They feel there are plenty of times to argue but during ‘hygge’ time everyone should feel safe and comfortable in a cozy environment. Feeling connected to others brings meaning and purpose to all of our lives, so this is certainly an interesting Danish concept other cultures should consider.
So if we got rid of the socialist label and replaced it with sociability, would there be any space for the Danish way in the heart of America? It’s a question worth asking if anyone would dare to listen.
Jessica Alexander is an American author who co-wrote 'The Danish Way of Parenting: A Guide to Raising the Happiest Kids in the World'. She has been married to a Dane for over 13 years and has always been fascinated by cultural differences. She speaks four languages and currently lives in Rome with her husband and two children. Her book can be purchased via Amazon and Saxo.