Planting Seeds of Happiness the Danish Way
Imagine a trip to paradise.
Do you see tropical islands with turquoise waters and white powdery sand? A life of relaxing all day without any commitments or obligations?
For some people, paradise is a place which is cold about 9 months a year, gets dark by 3pm, where citizens happily pay 60% taxes on their income, and — to top it all off — has more pigs than people living there.
Sound more like a nightmare to you? This place is Denmark. And despite the weather, high taxes, and the pigs- it has been ranked as one of the happiest places on earth for more than 40 years. Denmark even placed number one on the famous United Nations “world happiness report” published in 2016.
Why are the Danes so happy?
There are many reasons. But I’m going to share just three pillars of the Danish model, which encourage us to live in a simple, caring way. My hope is that you’ll be inspired to use these within your life and start planting your own seeds of happiness…the Danish way !
1. Being Trustworthy
Danes trust one another. In most countries, trust amongst citizens is only between 5 and 25% but in Denmark it’s 80% — the highest in the world. If you were to walk down a street in Copenhagen, you may discover Danes enjoying themselves at a typical cafe, or trendy open-face sandwich ( smørrebrød) shop. But what you may not expect to see is babies sleeping in their strollers in front of the restaurant! Who is keeping an eye on them? Everyone. Trust is so high people naturally look after one another as a community.
What can we do to have more trust? The first step is simple:
Do what you say. Say what you do.
When we tell our friends we’ll help them move into a new apartment, or give them a call after work: DO it. If you promise a colleague that you will support him in a corporate meeting but you change your mind, SAY it ( before the meeting!). Once you work to become a more trustworthy person, others will do the same. But changing levels of trust begins with ourselves.
2. Freedom to Be You
Freedom means trusting yourself to be …yourself.
From a very young age, Danes are taught that — no matter what their skills are — they are important to society. In other words, students who are great in math are not considered more valuable than those who excel in their cooking class. The main purpose of Danish education is to help students develop individual personalities. In this way, Danes are free to pursue whatever makes feel valued in society.
I’ve even met a family whose child’s dream was to become a garbage man. His parents were thrilled. Not because of the potential career path, but because their son was so curious and excited about his life.
But for many of us who didn’t grow up in Denmark, how can we set ourselves free today? First, free yourself from judgement. Including judgement from parents. Parents have a tendency to project their ambitions and values onto us as children, which can be difficult for us to find out what makes us happy in life.
Ask yourself: when did you stop being true to you? While we’re all constrained by commitments: paying rent, taxes and school fees, it’s important to remember that change takes time. But planting the seeds of our dreams should start now, it takes time for them to actually grow into something we can then choose to make a living. For me, I planted a seed of happiness when I wrote my first book while I was still working in a corporate job. It took three years for my seed to grow and for me to decide it would become the foundation of a whole new life.
3. Find Your Purpose
Lack of purpose can come from two things: (1) not doing what we like in life, and (2) not feeling part of anything. When we feel as if we’re only experiencing life doing what others tell us to do, we become victims of our own existence.
Believe it or not, in Denmark, purpose can often look like paying taxes. Taxes are seen as a special individual responsibility. Taxes mean a chance to participate in the project of the welfare state, and a chance to feel part of something bigger. Participating in this common project together helps Danes feel a sense of purpose, and it’s part of why they are so content.
But aside from taxes, how can we feel purpose?
-High sense of trust in ourselves and others
-High sense of freedom to be true to yourself
-High sense of value in your role
-High sense of responsibility in being part of something bigger
All of these elements give us hope, makes us feel good about ourselves, and brings us happiness.
Everyone has been rolled a different dice in life. It’s not so much about what we are given in life, but about what we do with what we’re given. We all have various challenges and obstacles to overcome. But it’s our choice to truly inhabit the change we want to see in the world. You don’t need to be Danish (nor need to move to Denmark) to find happiness. It’s within you to start planting these seeds of happiness, and be the change you want to see in your world.
See Malene Rydahl’s TEDx video on planting seeds of happiness the Danish way : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biQGa89O5O4