The World Happiness Report ranked Denmark as the world’s 2016’s happiest country which makes Helen Russell’s The Year of Living Danishly most timely. Russell and her husband moved to Denmark when he obtained a year appointment at Lego’s rural corporate headquarters. She was a little wary about the move, but as a journalist, specializing in lifestyle and travel, she decided this would be a great opportunity to work from home and research and experience firsthand why Danes are so happy.
The couple learned quickly that moving in the winter may have not been the best idea. The long winter finds Danes hibernating inside their homes, rarely leaving, while they practice the tradition of hygge, a hard concept to translate and understand. Loosely, it appears to be the time Danes recharge in winter as they hunker down in candlelit homes enjoying the company of family and close friends. To counteract the solitude and anonymity, Russell began talking to different Danes anywhere she could find them, to discover what makes them so happy. Obviously, the state mandated lengthy vacations and parental leave after a birth all parents receive, stellar education, free healthcare and college tuition, living wages and gender equality are all factors. Per Capita Income is about $61,000, minimum wage hovers around $20, and there is no elitism or social division between executives and plumbers. Danes join social clubs for entertainment and exercise and practice charitable acts with family, friends and strangers. Uncluttered homes, sleek Danish designs in furniture, lighting and architecture all complement the beautiful country.
But, there were other things that gave Russell pause. Cigarette consumption, drug use and STDs(Danes have more sex than people in many other countries) are rampant and when questioned, one respondent said it’s because people know the state health system is there if needed. Casual sex and watching porn are quite normal(including at office holiday parties) although some say women are objectified when city buses advertising plastic surgery drive by with greater than life size pictures of bare breasts plastered on the sides. Because everyone is treated equally, people feel free to make jokes about others, and some companies’ interviewers may ask personal questions, especially directed at women regarding their plans to start a family, for example.
Russell provides wonderful and often hysterical anecdotes(see swim date night) and statistics about this happy country. It is for the reader to determine for themselves how happy are the happiest people in the world.