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Why are Danish people so happy?

International surveys usually rank Denmark among the world’s happiest countries. But what makes Danish people so happy?  

When international surveys ask citizens around the world how happy they are with their daily lives and personal circumstances, Denmark always comes in among the top three happiest countries in the world. But what makes the Danes so happy?  Is it the tuition-free access to high-quality education, or the no-fee public health care? Is it the relative lack of crime and corruption, or just plain Danish hygge?

According to the World Happiness Report, happiness is closely linked to social equality and community spirit - and Denmark does well on both. Denmark has a high level of equality and a strong sense of common responsibility for social welfare. Even though there are nine major political parties in Denmark, none of them seriously supports dismantling the Danish welfare state. 


"I'm happy to pay taxes"

People living in Denmark pay some of the world's highest taxes - up to half of their income. On top of this, Danes pay a 25 % value-added tax on most items, and a tax of up to 150 % on new cars. 

But most Danes will tell you that they are happy to pay taxes because they can see what they get in return. Most healthcare in Denmark is provided with no fee to the patient. University students pay no tuition and receive a grant to help cover expenses while studying. Childcare is subsidised. And the elderly receive pensions and are provided with care helpers who visit them at home. 

Most Danes believe that it is everyone's responsibility to work if they can, and pay taxes to support the common good. If everyone pays their fair share, a social safety net can remain in place to support the very young, the very old, and the sick. The social safety net also supports people who lose their jobs for up to two years while they look for new jobs, although a system is in place to make sure they are actively looking for work.

quote ikon
In Denmark, few have too much, and even fewer have too little.
Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig, 1820 Influential danish thinker and priest

Trust and safety

Trust is an essential value in Danish culture and society, and a significant factor in Danish happiness. In Denmark, the default is to trust one another when it comes to business, government, or personal relationships. Honesty is expected, and corruption in business or among public servants is very rare. 

The relatively high level of safety in Denmark compared to many other countries means that Danish children enjoy much more freedom and independence than their counterparts elsewhere in the world. It is common to see children travelling alone on public transport as young as age 8 or 9 - the other passengers keep an eye on them. It is also common practice for parents to leave their babies outside in their baby carriages to nap, even during the chilly Danish winter. 

And it is usually safe to walk or bicycle in Denmark at any time of the day or night.

Read more about trust in Danish society.

What is Danish hygge?

The Danish concept of hygge is hard to translate, but in general it means taking time away from the daily rush to enjoy the good things in life. Hygge often takes place with family and friends, but you can also hygge (verb) alone, too, maybe with a good book or your favourite TV series. 

During the long Danish winters, hygge mostly takes place indoors - playing board games or chatting with friends over a hot beverage. But it can also be hyggeligt (adjective) to take a winter walk in nature and observe how plants and animals are coping with the cold weather. 

During Denmark's short and often unreliable summers, hygge is centred around Danish summer houses - small, basic homes-away-from-home, where Danes tend gardens and throw big lunch or dinner parties that feature delicious locally-grown strawberries. 

Hygge is about enjoying the simple and good parts of life together with people you care about.

Empowerment is key to happiness

Christian Bjørnskov, a professor of economics at Aarhus University, is researching happiness. He sees a strong relationship between happiness and empowerment.

"Danes feel empowered to change things in their lives," says Professor Bjørnskov. "What is special about Danish society is that it allows people to choose the kind of life they want to live. They rarely get caught in a trap. This means they're more satisfied with their lives."