Wednesday, May 11, 2011


When we considered moving to Copenhagen last winter, we were often told that it was one of the happiest cities on the planet. This seemed like a compelling reason to move here - happiest place? Sign me up.

When we got here in late January, I really wondered how Danes could be even remotely happy. It was cold and dark. The banks of the canals and river were barren and brown. Everyone traveled around in many many layers of clothing.

Now that it's Spring, the city has come alive, everything is green and I am really falling in love with Copenhagen. I also have more insight into Denmark and I have some ideas for why the Danes are the happiest people. Let's start with socialism.

In Denmark:

Childcare is guaranteed, high quality and extremely affordable.

Healthcare is free.

Moms get a year of maternity leave and get paid part of their salary the entire time.

College students are paid to go to school. (This means no Danish parents are worrying about setting aside money in a college fund)

If your income is too low, you automatically get government subsidies.

If you stay home with your child and care for him or her, you get paid by the government.

Most Danes only work until 4 or 4:30 pm.


Essentially, the Danes don't have to worry about much. Things that Americans obsess over are all taken care of here. Sure, there's a 25% sales tax on everything to help the government afford to take care of everyone, but if you don't have to worry about paying for healthcare or your child's education, if you don't have your unborn infant waiting on a list for daycare that he or she never stands a chance of getting into, if you get to take a year off with your new baby and still have some income, you can afford the sales tax, no problem.

Sure, there's a cold dark winter, but when the sun comes out in the spring, the carefree Danes have a plethora of parks to enjoy, they're uninhibited enough to take their tops off on the beaches, and they have enough disposable income to purchase stylish swimming suits.

When I tell people here about how I was supposed to return to work when Riley was three months old, how I didn't get paid at all while on maternity leave, how we already started a college fund for him, they look at me in shock. When American politics come up, Danes often say they don't understand what's going on in America.. Why didn't we want universal healthcare? they ask. I don't know what to say. Form where they are coming from, high taxes and lots of services look really good. Heck, from where I'm coming from it's beginning to look really good, too.


  1. Could be could be... But bless their hearts, their government is whipping it away from them. The taxes are staying high but the services are being cut.

    My understanding of why they report they are happy, though, is that they measure success by how happy they *say* they are. Certainly would explain why they also have the biggest suicide rate and all those problems with substance abuse.

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  4. (Oops, typos!)
    Here's an older article which is still very relevant to many of our experiences in Denmark, I'm sorry to say.

    Hope you'll read it with an open mind and reserve judgement before you assume the author just hasn't tried hard enough, until you've been here a bit longer.

  5. I have a theory on why abundant social services (mostly) work in Scandinavian countries, and other small, homogeneous countries. I think it's much easier to have that many social services when the population is small and mostly homogeneous. It's far easier to manage than it would be in America where it's easier to immigrate (emigrate? I never know...) than Denmark, it's even easier to illegally immigrate and receive benefits, and there are so many more people and lifestyles and cultures in the US than there ever will be in a Scandinavian country, realistically. And our government is enormous. Can you imagine after every agency at every level has taken its cut here how much programs would cost? Also, most Scandinavian countries do not have birthright citizenship - where you can waddle across the border, pop out a baby and it is instantly a citizen of that country. If that were the case, they would have a bankrupt system. Like many of our border states have here in the US, unfortunately. Don't get me wrong - this isn't a diatribe against immigrants in any way. I love that we are a melting pot (I'm three races myself), but I think maybe Danes could learn more about America before they judge us as heartless or are baffled, when they themselves have a system that works because they don't let in people seeking a better life while we do.

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  7. Hi Jodi, i stumbled on your blog (on 'what danes like') and i really enjoyed reading your posts!

    I am from Belgium and we are considering trying out our luck in Denmark because our country is short on jobs and good opportunities are scarce. I have been reading about Denmark a lot and i am starting Danish classes next month, and we are planning our move in about 2-3 years. Blogs like yours are a big help to me and i wish you and your family all the best in Denmark!

    ps: i hadn't read 'Clarifications on Happiness' when i first replied and felt like it was more appropriate to keep it at this, i don't mean to keep the discussion going ;)

    Greetings from Belgium

  8. Hi Pearl,
    Thanks for reading and for your comments. I am glad you are enjoying the blog. I hope to begin posting more frequently again. Stay tuned!