‘It’s different for expats’: Readers reveal whether Denmark really is a happy place to be

Last week, Denmark was named the world’s second happiest country in the latest edition of the World Happiness Report. But is it really a place place to be? You, our readers, share your views.

'It's different for expats': Readers reveal whether Denmark really is a happy place to be
Photo: Sofie Mathiassen/Ritzau Scanpix

The survey-based report rates Denmark high on happiness, as it has done for several years, but do you agree? Here’s what you told us.

Freedom and choice for everyone

Denmark does well on these surveys because of the small things, Cathy Chen, who lives in Copenhagen, wrote.

“Small (things), like meeting friends for coffee, having a talk, waking around lakes” are all everyday parts of Danish life that encourage happiness, Chen wrote.

“Also, for Danes, their country has a very nice social welfare system to protect its citizens. They do not have to worry too much about their life,” Chen added.

Others also cited the country’s social safety net and low income inequality.

“People have fewer concerns than in other places,” wrote Marco Giannini, who also lives in Copenhagen.

Another aspect of Danish society that allows happiness to flourish is trust, wrote Hazel Mills, who lives in Augustenborg in South Jutland.

“People are generally very respectful to each other and so much is done on trust and that trust is rewarded. Taxes may be high but you can see where they go. People work hard but also make the most of their free time. And I love hygge!”, Mills wrote.

Acceptance and progressive values are an important area in which Denmark does well, said Marjorie Skiba of Næstved.

“(Denmark) has a system that promotes freedom and choice for everyone, has gender parity and reveres children,” Skiba wrote.

Work-life balance was a part of Danish culture almost unanimously appreciated and praised by our readers, as it has been in previous questionnaires.

Denmark’s happiness is “not happiness, it is contentment. The Danes take their time doing things. They're not stressed,” Crispin Avon of Copenhagen wrote.

Language and culture

A number of readers praised Denmark on happiness but said it could still sometimes feel hard to access.

“Living as an expat in Denmark is entirely different from a normal Dane’s life. (On) one side, it is extremely good in things such as work-life balance, living in a technology frontier nation, (with) high culture and no racism — I haven't felt racism yet. But on the other side, it is very difficult to be a part of the society due to language and cultural differences,” Mohan Raj of Odense wrote.

“You can glimpse the fruit of happiness but cannot really taste it for yourself. In four other countries where I have lived, the people had no such accolade [high happiness survey rankings, ed.] to be proud of but I was happier there,” wrote Ginny Joseph, who lived in Denmark for eight years and currently resides in Dubai.

Unhappy weather, long-term happiness

But is there anything about Denmark that makes it less happy than other countries? A highly popular answer to this question was – the weather.

“I have been the saddest living in Denmark. Depressed by the weather,” Juny Merredith of Horsens wrote.

Although it can be hard to see the happiness associated with Danes on the surface, there is evidence it’s there, according to the answers we received.

“Danes are not happy people, contrary to popular belief, you don't see Danes smiling or getting over excited very often. So happiness here is more to do with the practicalities of living,” Andy Keefe, also of Horsens, wrote.

For others, what would normally be mundane moments are evidence of happiness.

“Streets crowded with bikes at 8:30am instead of streets crowded with cars at 7:30am, as well as crowded grocery stores at 5pm instead of 6:30pm” was an everyday reflection of Denmark’s happiness, Tom Gibson of Copenhagen said.

“Shopping is so much more pleasant with generally cheerful and polite shop assistants and checkout people,” Hazel Mills added.

Although Denmark is ultimately far from being a country where everyone is happy, it has the right ideas in place for long-term contentment and not just a quick fix, one reader suggested.

“There are still a lot of people in Denmark that are unhappy. Which is why there is also a lot of work being done in regards to loneliness and to improve people's mental health. Plus, the weather here doesn't make it easy to be happy every day,” Ave Nurmeots, who lives in Aarhus, wrote.

“I think the happiness does mainly come from (hygge, work-life balance and the social welfare model) and is more about long-term happiness than short-term positive emotions,” he added.


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World’s second-happiest country Denmark to get museum about happiness

Denmark, famed for its regular spot near the top of the annual World Happiness Report, is to open a museum about feeling good.

World’s second-happiest country Denmark to get museum about happiness
File photo: Mads Nissen/Ritzau Scanpix

Why is it that the Nordic countries often top the World Happiness Reports? How has the perception of the good life evolved over time? And can you actually measure happiness? 

Visitors can look for the answers to these questions when the world’s first happiness museum opens in Denmark, which took second place behind Finland in the most recent edition of the report.

Thinktank Happiness Research Institute (Institut for Lykkeforskning) is behind the Happiness Museum, which is scheduled to open on Copenhagen's Admiralgade in May. Entry will cost 95 kroner for adults and 65 kroner for children and seniors.

The museum is led by Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute and author of a string of volumes on Danish happiness culture including the bestselling The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. The museum is fully financed by Happiness Research Institute.

“The United Nations has put happiness on the agenda with the World Happiness Report, where Denmark consistently ranks in the top of the happiest countries,” Wiking said in written comments provided to The Local.


“At the Happiness Research Institute we receive many requests for visits – as people imagine the office to be a magical place full of puppies and ice-cream. Sadly, we sit in front of computers and look at data and evidence – but we thought 'let’s create a museum where we can bring the science of happiness to life',” he added.

In the small museum, visitors will gain insight in the history of happiness, the politics of happiness, the anatomy of smiles and why the Nordic countries are considered happiness superpowers. 

The museum is interactive and visitors will take part in small exercises involving light and chocolate, as well as thought experiments, including: Would you take the red pill or the blue pill in the Matrix, being put in a machine that gives you the illusion of living your perfect life – or would you prefer to live in the real world?

Exhibits also include artefacts of happiness donated by people from around the world which remind them of their happiest moments.

“We might be Danish and British – but we are first and foremost people,” Wiking said.

“I hope visitors will see how alike we are when it comes to happiness – that our guests exit the museum wiser, happier and a little more motivated to make the world a better place,” he added.