6 Reasons to Visit the World's Happiest Country

172 Comments

happydane.jpg
Is that a woman or a 12-year old drinking beer? I don’t know, but they’re happy about it.

Denmark has recently emerged as the world’s happiest country, beating out Bhutan, the long-time favorite of anthropologists everywhere.

The birthplace of LEGO–a contraction of leg godt or “play well”–offers even the first time visitor an incredible sense of hygglige: amiable cosiness.

“I remember you mentioned in your book,” my Danish editor said over lunch in Copenhagen two weeks ago, “that you had a big head.” I do have a huge head. I took a bite of delicious Esrom cheese and nodded for her to continue, keeping one eye on the wienerbrød.

“But you don’t have a huge head. You just have a healthy, normal-sized Danish head.” I smiled–home at last.

Even if you don’t have a Danish bloodline like I do, there are some good reasons to visit Copenhagen, the capital of the world’s happiest country…

university-of-leicester.gif
The First Published Map of World Happiness: the US ranks 23rd, the UK 41st, and Japan and France at 90th and 62nd respectively.

Here are just 6 of them:

1. More than 80% of the Danes speak English.

English movies are almost never dubbed in Denmark. Combined with excellent free education, this results in a high % of Danes speaking more pleasant English than the average Brit or American.

“OK, I’ll see you for dinner at 6pm then,” I said to one friend named Christopher over the phone. “You shall. Have a nice evening and see you soon,” he responded. Did I just get out-Englished by a non-native speaker? I felt like a TOEFL student.

You’re more likely to have communication problems in the bayou of Louisiana or in a pub in Manchester than you are in Copenhagen.

2. Christiania–the anarchist state of Scandinavia.

In 1971, a 101-acre site formerly used for army barracks was effectively seized and converted by hippies into “The Free State of Christiania.” They hotwired themselves into the power grid, created their own form of goverment, as well as a rich community of shops, schools, recycling programs, and most things you would associate with a normal township–but they claimed sovereignty and paid no taxes. It became a haven for artists, alternatives, and soft drug dealing, among other things, and the Danish government–though allowing Christiania to exist as a proclaimed “social experiment”–has been trying to shut them down for more than 35 years. In 1991, the appointed powers within the anarchist state agreed to pay rent and cover the costs of water and electricity.

I spent a late night wandering through the beautifully painted historical buildings of Christiania, ultimately ending up with two friends at The Woodstock Cafe, where we drank organic beer and met interesting vagabonds from all over the world. Dogs played outside among the metal barrels, which glowed like jack-o-lanterns from the flames inside them, producing surreal shadows on the graffiti all around us. It was incredible.

Most Danes agree that Christiania’s days are numbered. It’s an anachronism that has somehow survived every attempt to demolish it, but it’s nine lives will soon be up. Get there before it’s gone.

3. Danes pair food and wine better than most Italians or French.

That’s a strong statement, but I was amazed at how precisely, and insistently, most decent restaurants paired courses with wine. Restaurant Saa Hvidt, featuring young culinary superstar Frederik Hvidt, offers a prix fixe 5-course meal with five separate wines for each tapas-like dish. Incredible and unlike anything I’ve had in more than 30 other countries. Danish cheese is also the best I’ve ever had.

For a taste of real home-cooked Danish food, eat with a local family for about 400 DKK through the Dine with the Danes program.


5 small courses and 5 delicious wines at Saa Hvidt, with the good people from Borgen.

4. The people are beautiful but seem unaware of the fact.

As Bill Bryson once observed: you could cast a Pepsi commercial here in 15 seconds.

Right up there with Argentina, Denmark has a jaw-dropping number of gorgeous people. The truly beautiful part, and unusual differentiator, is that appear blissfully unaware of the fact. There is little LA-style pretension unless you go to a social climber magnet like Club NASA, which helps to pull the mirror gazers off the streets. Go in the spring or summer and there is no need for catwalks–the sidewalks at Nyhavn are good enough. For those feeling the club or lounge itch, Vega and JazzHouse are hard to beat.

5. Danish design is incredible to experience, even for non-designers.

“It doesn’t cost money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture.” This quote from Poul Henningsen, encapsulates the beauty of Danish design minimalism. Much like in Japanese design, form follows function, and half of the time I found myself in a great mood in Copenhagen, I realized it was due to the planned passage of sunlight in Danish architecture, as well as their understanding of interior lighting intensity and placement.

Bigger is not better, as is so often the case in the US, and the tallest building in Copenhagen is a modest 358 feet.

From the sleek silverware of 2001: A Space Odyssey to the most famous chairs in the design world, the Danes have a functional and pleasant feast for the eyes almost anywhere you go, whether the renowned Louisiana museum or your hotel lobby.


6. Bite-sized goodness: public transportation is as good as Japan, and you can cover the entire city in a weekend.

I looked at where I wanted to go. It was on the other side of the map from my hotel. “How long does it take to get there by taxi? 20 minutes?” The receptionist looked at me and laughed: “10 minutes by bicycle.” Copenhagen is probably the most hassle-free capital I’ve ever visited.

Rent a bike for 100 DKK and you can cover 1/2 of the “Barcelona of the North,” as design god Sir Terence Conran calls it, in an afternoon. 1-3-hour bike tours from Central Station are a perfect first-day orientation. The numerous S-line and Metro stations, in addition to HUR buses, will get you where you want to go if self-propelled locomotion isn’t your gig, but the average Dane bicycles 375 miles per year. Get off your ass and join them for the real Danish experience.

###

Looking for other happy travels?

Here are the combined top 10 according to separate studies from the University of Leicester in the UK and Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the latter of which had 953 indicators (!):

* 1 Denmark
* 2 Switzerland
* 3 Austria
* 4 Iceland
* 5 Bahamas
* 6 Finland
* 7 Sweden
* 8 Bhutan
* 9 Brunei
* 10 Canada


6-month old salted cod and four other pairings in Copenhagen. And, yes, there was caviar in the dessert.

Posted on: April 14, 2008.

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172 comments on “6 Reasons to Visit the World's Happiest Country

  1. Interesting, but I’ve always wondered why the “happiest places” in the world in many cases have a higher suicide rate than the USA/Australia. Could it be that the way they rank these happiest places is because of certain socialized programs/standard of living?

    I think Dennis Miller breaks down this concept well. He says that in the end, when we lose the “struggle” in life, we often turn out weaker and have less resolve to excel in many ways. I’m not saying socialized anything is bad, but at a certain point we have to realize that life more like the Serengeti plains than the Garden of Eden.

    Like

  2. Hmmm….totally agree w/Denmark! But clicking through the link says Switzerland is tied for #1. Now, I love the beauty of Switzerland, but I’d never think to describe the locals as “jolly.”

    Maybe they’re just happy on the inside!!

    Like

  3. Am now intrigued with Danish cuisine, especially with the “best cheese” comment. Since I don’t think I’ll be able to head to Denmark any time soon, do you know of any Northern California Danish restaurants? I’d be very interested in delving into the food!

    Like

    • Hi nana, in California, im not completely sure of any Danish restaurants in Northern CA.. I live in southern CA, and a small town north from me, called Solvang (Danish meaning “Sunny Valley”) is a Danish Village. Solvang was founded by the first Danes who immigrated here from Denmark, and all of the architecture and such is Danish design. there are many delicious Danish bakeries and restaurants where you can get some great Danish quisine, and theres plenty of sights to see. theres a few seperate Danish museums, and windmills which you can take tours of also.. Solvang is pretty much a small taste of Denmark in america! if your interested in that kind of thing id suggest going to google and looking up Solvang California :)

      Like

  4. Totally agree with point # 4, my buddy and I went to Denmark and I have to tell you, Danish women are some of the best looking women on the planet. Blue eyes and platinum blonde hair without the “attitude” of course. Plus they seem to think Asians are exotic creatures, we totally felt like Harold & Kumar goes to Denmark dude.

    http://www.feedbacksecrets.com

    Like

  5. Hi Tim,

    When you were talking about dessert…the thing that grows in the garden, that you called weeds, is nettles…popular ingredient at the moment in Copenhagen (not sure if that’s because it’s in season or just in fashion at the moment).

    Glad you’re enjoying Cph. :)

    Like

  6. @Donovan,

    I’ve seen the stats on suicide in Scandinavia as well. I suspect — pure speculation — that, unlike Japan, suicide in these places are largely a result of the long periods of darkness due to their latitude/location. Large-scale SAD with predictable results.

    I’d love to see any studies that have been done comparing cumulative annual exposure to sunlight and subjective reported well-being. I suspect there is a strong connection.

    All said, though, those Danes make the best of some rainy and cold days. Makes you want to slap people who complain about the fog in SF :)

    Tim

    Like

    • I’ve actually seen studies showing that most suicides happen in summer time, when it’s not dark and cold. And that it should not have much to do with weather. Maybe it could be because most Danes are satisfied and doing very good in life. No poverty, no “real” worries about the future, a very “easy life”, etc. So when you are not doing well, and compare yourself to the rest of the Danes, you really feel bad compared to them, because the standards are so high there. Another thing, I saw a study about that, is that Danes are not very into religious communities where suicide is seen as a sin and you go to hell. That is the believe of many Christians (I think the Bible calls it a sin?), but not many Danes are religious. Also, sometimes Greenland (part of Danish Kingdom) is taken into the statistics, and they have a very high rate of suicides.

      Like

  7. Wanderlust is boiling inside me… soon soon I will make my escape. I have to work your worksheet to see how much I need to make Denmark and Europe happen. My friend Konrad says Polish women are the most beautiful but some have ‘tude. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but there are many empirically attractive specimens in clusters around the globe. Are the men in Denmark as attractive and Large Brained/Big Headed as you? ;)

    Bill Bryson is one of my brothers favorite authors. I think “A Walk in the Woods” is his favorite because it takes place near his house. Gotta love NJ!
    I think my brother would like to be him. He just needs a beard and glasses.

    Hugs,
    Jen

    Like

  8. Oh a great place for wine or beer pairings in the US is http://www.rosemarysrestaurant.com/ which is in Las Vegas. It’s off the strip, in a unassuming strip mall. Superb and amazing! Their tasting menu with perfect pairings and fabulous service. I felt like a royalty with napkins that matched my skirt. I haven’t been may places but it is one of the best places I have ever dined.

    Hug numero dos,
    Jen

    Like

  9. Suicide in Scandinavia doesn’t carry the social stigma that it does in the states where many suicides are categorized as “accidents.” If someone is in a bad situation and no longer wants to live, they are free to exit. Maybe this leaves the happier people for those polls, or the other countries rate lower in happiness because they force miserable people to keep living.

    Like

    • Denmark, was one of the few European countries that stayed with its own currency instead of switching to euros like most of the others, if your traveling from another country, you can go to a local bank and exchange your dollars or euros into Danish Kroners so you can shop and eat as much as you’d like :)

      Like

  10. Seduction Chronicles: you’re definitely on to something there. As someone who has lived in Scandinavia (Sweden and Denmark both) for all his life, I can tell you that these happiness studies would be laughed at by a lot of natives who feel crushed under taxes and state nannying.

    Besides, exactly how do you quantify such a thing? Being somewhat of a grumpy curmudgeon, I am very skeptical of some government droid declaring that I am indeed “happy”…

    Bare mine 2 øre ;)

    Like

    • True story. But we get tons of stuff for the high taxes, in US people die because they can´t afford medicine, while the Danes get money from the state to buy medicine if they´re poor (and if they don´t have a job they get a bit money too). And it´s free to go to the hospital. And children can go to do the dentist for free. And we have one of the best school systems in the world. I could go on forever.

      Many Danes probably says they´re unhappy, because they think that the rest of the world is an utopia.

      By the way, it´s called “Bare mine 25 øre”, not “Bare mine 2 øre”.

      Like

  11. Interesting about the food and wine pairings. It could help that they don’t have a ton of local wine to choose from, but have a huge variety from relatively close by, thus freeing people to choose from a wealth of options without local prejudice.

    I’ve only been to Copenhagen once, and then only for two or three days, but it was the dead of winter and I still found it one of the most enchanting and fun cities I’ve ever visited.

    I remember how shockingly manageable the city was (we walked from one end to the other) This is a huge plus for me when I’m travelling. Not that I avoid big cities, but often my best memories come from smaller places where one can discover the local secrets in a shorter time. It has something to do with people in small cities being a little less jaded and maybe a little more open to strangers…

    Like

  12. That being said, Tim is absolutely right that Denmark is a wonderful place and you should visit. Might be interesting to check out other parts than Copenhagen too, the rural parts, such as Lolland, are quite lovely. Check out the classic dogma film Mifunes sidste sang if you want a look at that part of the country.

    Like

  13. If you want Danish food in California, you could just take a drive over to Solvang and go wild. Also:

    Copenhagen Danish Restaurant & Bar
    Redwood City

    Copenhagen Bakery
    Burlingame

    Anna’s Danish Cookies
    San Mateo

    Lighthouse Diner
    San Rafael

    Like

  14. My ex is Danish and I must say that I too have been seduced by the Danish culture. There is much pride and beauty and the food is yummy (try Lighthouse Cafe in Sausalito. I believe also the catering for the Danish Soldier’s Club of Northern California).

    When I saw the article proclaiming Danes as the happiest in the world, I asked my then BF and Farmor (his mom) to explain why they would be blessed with that distinction. Their answer was quite frank and surprising: Danes have lower expectations.

    They attributed this in part to the privilege that Danes are brought up with (such as free education). Their view is that many Danes take advantage of social programs that others in different countries work so hard for. This results in a lack of ambition or drive to succeed above the minimum required.

    On the other hand, there are many notable celebrities, millionaires, entrepreneurs and/or scholars that are produced by this small country (population 5,468,120), such as model Helena Christensen, owner of Maersk Shipping, author Hans Christian Andersen, Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr (quoted in 4HWW).

    In any case, I thought this comment was interesting coming from native Danes. Regardless, it is a rich culture and I plan to visit Denmark in the near future. Skoal!

    Lani

    Like

  15. I NEED to get to Denmark SOON!!!

    Chirsitania sounds like paradise to me.

    Tim, how the hell can I do a trip to Denmark cheap?? With the dollar down and the Euro up, it seems impossible. Should I just keep saving away or do you have some tricks up your sleeve on this country????

    Thanks for the great post!

    Kevin

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  16. Being a Dane, who somehow got stuck in the US, this was a fantastic post! It really made me miss my hometown and look forward to going back there. So, thanks! :)

    On an unrelated note, I just picked up your book and look forward to reading it.

    Like

  17. Aw, what a nice surprise to see a such a nice post about my hometown :D

    Glad you enjoyed København Tim, but aim for the summer months next time, it is SO much nicer!

    Like

  18. My family is Danish and I’ve been to Denmark many times. It’s gorgeous and really loved this post.

    Thanks, Tim!

    By the way, most of the staff at the University of Santa Monica is reading your book and love it!

    Keep up the good work.
    e

    Like

  19. Hi Tim,

    I really enjoyed reading this post and hearing about your adventures in pretty people land. Living in LA, I can’t yet wrap my mind around flocks of gorgeous ladies without the attitude. These last two posts were two of your best yet. Your writing style is succinct and simple.

    NOTE: Your TOEFL link is not working.

    Like

  20. Ahh how I love the bicycle culture of Copenhagen. Yes, it along with Stockholm were the most expensive cities on my Europe tour, but worth every Danish Kroner! The ambience, beautiful (oblivious to the fact) people, and clean air from the ratio of bicycles to automobiles make it a hard country to compete with. It was great reading this post, brought back some memories. I wonder if you had the chance to eat at Pussy Galore, yes that’s the restaurant name.

    Like

  21. It’s interesting the happiness indices are produced by European Universities. Could there be any cultural bias in what constitutes happiness?

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  22. Well, no surprises that the ULK is not vying for the top spots. It sucks at the moment for many, many reasons. Weather, tax, political correctness gone mad, and the apparent attitude of the government towards the hard working, honest populace – if you fall in that category, then we are going to sh*ft you at every given opportunity.

    I for one, am not impressed.

    Now where is that Danish application form….?!

    Like

  23. Thank you very much for the kind words!

    I’m really proud to say that I’m a Dane. Your Denmark review and the many positive comments really made my day ;)

    The picture is a classic Danish national team football (soccer) fan called “Roligan” (opposite of Hooligan, “Ro” means calm).

    Being a small country we specialize in niche products like design, dairy products and luxury items.

    It’s free to study no matter where, we are actually paid to study ;)

    We do however also pay a lot of tax. The average is about 40-45% income tax and with 25% VAT, it isn’t cheap to live in Denmark. 1 gallon of gas is about kr. 42 ($8.57) ;)

    If anyone is going to Denmark, let me know I’ll gladly help you out.

    Like

  24. Somewhat weird that Sweden is one of the happiest, how does they measure that? We have a reputation of all being depressed =). Anyway, what was the name of that Danish restaurant, and was it as expensive as it looked?

    Like

  25. These are extremely interesting results. I have lived in Finland for a year and loved the place and people. But I wouldn’t have said it was one of the 10 happiest countries on earth. Depression was rife and suicide very high. Heart disease and alcoholism were alarming.

    I have travelled extensively through Sweden & Denmark & Canada, plus have lived with Danes. Denmark is a wonderful place, as is Sweden. The people are beautiful and friendly. I couldn’t argue with Denmark as No.1

    As an Australian who has travelled and lived around the world, including USA, I am amazed that Australia ranks so far down. Obviously there are one or two indicators that weigh heavily against us. Otherwise, living in a wealthy country with inexpensive education and health-care, very low unemployment, wonderful weather, great surf and year round outdoor lifestyle, amazing fresh food and sensational wine seems pretty good to me.

    Or maybe I am just too happy to notice.

    Like

  26. Great read! I live in Malmö, Sweden which is connected to Copenhagen by the bridge over Öresund but I’ve mostly only been in Denmark for flight departures. Copenhagen has always struck me as a nice place. I’ll have to visit again soon and spend some serious time there!

    Like

  27. Copenhagen is nice of course.. but there is more to Denmark than its capital.

    What about a little love for the rest of the happy country? ;)

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  28. What a great post! I can confirm these six statements. I have lived in Denmark my entire life, and so far I have spent six years in Copenhagen. Let me know if you have any plans about comming here again, Tim :) It would be great to meet you and do a short interview.

    Like

  29. Nice article, I´ve always had a great time having fun with my “nieces and nephews” in Denmark. Being from Iceland I really enjoyed seeing my country at number four in the list, as it is definitely a good place to experience for foreigners not quite used to what we have to offer.

    If you´ve never been there Tim I´d be happy to give you a few pointers in the right directions. Maybe even in the directions of a translator so we can see your book in Icelandic, you´ve yet to crack open our (small) market. I think there are a lot of people here to benefit from your stories and we have a few surprises for your benefit as well.

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  30. I read your book on my honeymoon about a year ago, and I’ve been implementing your techniques and suggestions ever since. I have come farther toward my goals n the last year than the last 15 combined, and I will start taking mini-retirements soon.

    Denmark sounds like a great option for a first run;)

    Like

  31. It’s funny when these studies come out and proclaim that such and such country has the “best standard of living in the world” or in that case, the “happiest people.”

    I personally think that people say whatever makes them feel better in surveys.

    For example, the city where I grew up in in Quebec was recently elected the “happiest city in Quebec.” To be honest I have no personal factual evidence to support that!

    And what about Switzerland? It also has the highest suicide rate in the world. So maybe they’re just happy in a creepy, “brave new world” kind of way?

    Anyway I enjoyed your story as I’ve always wanted to visit Denmark and Iceland. Thanks :-)

    Like

  32. Tim, if you haven’t already and you’re fascinated by this topic of ‘happiest places on Earth,’ I’d invite you to read Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. He’s a fellow national best seller, and although his list is slightly outdated (in his book he mentions the same Leicester list as somewhat different), he does touch upon Iceland, Switzerland, and Bhutan as being his top picks.

    Not only that, but he goes into detail for each country (and also the countries that do NOT have environments conducive to happiness, such as Qatar). Maybe you’ve read it already, but if not, definitely check it out. It’s one of my favorite books.

    Like

  33. Tim – I haven’t found any studies on sunlight and happiness specifically, but I certainly think getting enough sunlight is *one* of the components of happiness. Here is a good article on the subject which states “The opioid system triggers pleasure. Sugar, which recalls the sweetness of mother’s milk, can set it off. Caressing, sex, fatty foods, sunlight on the skin—all these can do it, too.” (http://harvardmagazine.com/2007/01/the-science-of-happiness.html) It seems also that people living at higher altitudes (less sun exposure) are at a much greater risk of all kinds of diseases, to include auto-immune and even cancer…http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/80/6/1678S – which of course, can be depressing :( What is interesting to me is that, for a lot of people, other people’s happiness can cause deeper depression. Hmmmmm…

    Like

  34. My advice to anyone traveling to a foreign country: you can really learn a lot about a culture by having dinner with the locals. This has become my favorite travel experiences and one I have taken advantage of often.

    Thanks for the “Dine with the Danes” link. I’ll definitely store that.

    Like

  35. Awesome category! I am German and have family in Austria, and yes, we do know how to have fun…do I have some serious memories!
    Also, I wanted to thank you for the 4 hour work week, it has gotten my butt into gear and I am on my way to automation!

    If you need some cool places to visit in Austria – Salzburg area, give me a ring!

    Like

  36. Awesome Tim, I took your advice and I’m heading to Denmark next weekend (RyanAir has a cheap flight from Florence, where I’m studying). I land 1km from legoland, woohoo!

    -Maneesh

    Like

  37. I’m into design, after reading your article and this (link below) I have to go !!

    —–

    Copenhagen, a city that exists primarily to inspire a deep regret among those cursed to live elsewhere. The Danes make the rest of us look like apes, and I’m not just talking about national health care or paternity leaves with full pay. This is a place where Wallpaper magazine is sold at the 7-Eleven, and where the clerks at 7-Eleven speak better English than most Americans. This is a town so reverent of aesthetics that a city ordinance bans cheap plastic café furniture—instead, sidewalks are lined with stainless-steel chairs and tables straight out of a design museum. Nobody steals them; everyone has much nicer ones at home. It’s a city where even the airport has hardwood floors; a city where you may find yourself envious of a kindergartner’s shockingly stylish shoes.

    from http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/designed-for-living

    Like

  38. I’ll be going to school in Copenhagen this coming fall, and I can’t wait. I’ll definitely check out some of the things you mentioned.

    Like

  39. As a Canadian living in the Great White North for over 30 years now, I totally agree that Canada should be among the top 10. I’ve travelled a little to Europe, many times to US and a little in Asia and I think we definately have the best mix of life/culture/taxes and freedom anywhere in the world. We get shorter days in Winter too around the great lakes cities but we manage well. Everyone should visit Canada from Coast to Coast (like travelling across Europe) and see how happy our multicultural society is…I’m a visible minority myself. Quebec City, Halifax, Vancouver and Niagara Falls are all a must see for any travel. Our national parks can swallow many countries and our natural diversity is one of the blessings of this country…come for a visit! Peace.

    Like

  40. How remarkable. This post has lit a fire in my belly.

    I’d have been expecting this reaction from more ‘inspiring’ blog posts. But it never came.

    My passion must lie in travel and I’ve never truely realised till now.

    Thank you.

    Like

  41. @ Jennifer
    Well I happen to be born in Poland although Have been in NY for like 10 years already. Thanks for mentioning that Polish girls are beautiful but an attitude?
    Everyone has an attitude.
    Good, bad, positive, negative…

    All the best,

    Anna

    Like

  42. @Anna,
    I hope no offense was taken. I sometimes have foot n mouth disease! LOL Or don’t explain myself well. My friend Konrad was born and grew up in Poland and told me of such women with ‘tude! He told me some stories that were interesting but of his own opinion. I was passing along the information from another male perspective. I think if a person has an “idea” about a group of women from say LA or Poland or NY, they will get to the destination and will find those women. Your brain will focus on what you expect, so I always expect people will be lovely to me when I meet new people. I rarely meet people with ‘tude, Polish or otherwise. I have many a lovely Polish girlfriends and they are cool and gorgeous. As I am sure you are Anna.

    Hugs,
    Jen

    Like

  43. @ Save the Male

    Is Henry Makow

    a) The most ignorant man ever to be awarded a PhD?
    b) Recently jilted
    c) Not getting any
    d) All of the above

    Enquiring minds want to know.

    Like

  44. It’s been quite a while since I’ve been to Denmark, but I remember it was really nice. I would like to go back sometime soon. It’s not far at all from the Netherlands where I live. I think the nicest way of going there (although not the fastest) is by boat.

    Like

  45. I lived in Switzerland for a summer and do have to agree that it is a fantastic place. In fact the happiest summer of my life thus far. I would have to say that Basel, Luzern & Lugano have a much happier well-being that say Zurich. The people seem very proud of being Swiss. One drawback, Swiss are a bit xenophobic toward foreign immigrants, but that is a separate widespread political issue entirely.

    I have never been to Scandinavia, but from what I remember of Holland, seems they have much in common: Great functional design, excellent taste in food, beautiful people impeccable English and of course bicycles.

    Keep the world exploration reports coming!

    Like

  46. I have never been to Denmark, but I have been to Norway many, many times, and have spent much time with Danes as well as Norwegians. The thing I like most about that part of the world is that I have never met so many rational, logical people in one place. The constant feeling I have of being surrounded by idiocy disappears when I am over there. These are societies, unlike ours in the U.S., that place the welfare of the people first. I could go on and on, but space is limited :)

    Like

  47. I just wanted to say, I know that “home at last” feeling you mentioned. I just got back from a trip to Ireland, it’s the first time I’ve traveled internationally to somewhere I wasn’t the palest, freckliest person in a 50 mile radius.

    Among my people, freckles and red hair are pretty normal. Where I grew up and travel to, not so much.

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  48. It’s great to see Denmark on the top of this list. Even though I am Norwegian, I simply adore Denmark. If you have kids, you just have to visit Denmark every single summer, there are really no country to compare it to (at least when you are living in Norway).

    The people are great, they are really friendly, and they have so many attractions to see.

    Why are they so happy in Denmark? It might be because they are very relaxed, and they are allowed to drink alcohol everywhere :-)

    Anyway, I agree with the six reasons to visit Denmark, but you can probably add another 100.

    Like

  49. If you have an unusual last name in this country, it’s fun to go back and visit where “your people” came from. I did this when I was in college. Visited County Cornwall and was delighted to find that everyone knew how to pronounce “Retallick.”

    Like

  50. Of course, none of this would be complete without mentioning Alphabeat’s poptastic “Fasination”.

    Last.fm

    If you haven’t heard this yet, Tim, check it out – it will totally make your (and everybody else’s) day.

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  51. the definition of happiness must vary from person to person. Would a buddhist monk from Bhutan be happy in Helsinki or in the Australian outback? You’d have to wonder what happiness meant to a that buddhist monk in the first place. I am satisfied and content but often stressed by living here. The following is an attempt to counter what researchers in England have surmised, I’ll assert, as opposed to have proven.

    The guy writing that article – though not those who reported the “research” – based his analysis on a trip to Copenhagen. Tim, what’s his blog, the 4 hour work week – oh yah, does that include working on his joint rolling technique in Christiania? Hey he’s obviously got something right though: be positive, travel, write it down, sell it. But as for his visit to Copenhagen, well, that’s like basing my view of El Salvador upon my experience surfing Punta Mango! A great wave like Mango carries more weight for me than Copenhagen or Christiania – a dilapidated hippie hang out/ commune that is losing support because it is being invaded by disrespectful hoodlum-type shaved headed quasi “gangster” youths. Also, he talks about pairing wine with food but forgets to mention costs at a nice restaurant…or even a mere pizza joint. ($12 for a really crappy one person pizza at the “grill bar” near our house. Note, “grill-bars” are neither and have neither grill or bar. They are typically run by enterprising immigrants who have found a niche for themselves in this poorly regulated often “in the black” “under the table” industry. They are typically untalented at pizza making, their shawarma lackluster and their ingredients are typically the most downmarket and most dire of quality imaginable in DK. Yet, this is what many Danes get when they eat out- outside of the city in particular. Dude, there are no pupusa joints or taqueirias with fresh salsa and little lime wedges here, nor is there any equivalent. There are no sweet ladies making mixing up a fresh curtido and smiling when you come in. There are no liquados with fresh fruit that don’t cost less than $10! Its a fucking joke. The point is, is that even bad food is expensive and good food is beyond the means or geography of most people. And fresh food? It ain’t California or anything like France, Croatia or anywhere in southern Europe. Although there are some fantastic fish if you buy direct from the fishermen. The irony is that that fish never makes it to the supermarkets, it gets sent to France ASAP! So, when you buy fish at the market, it is packaged filets that have been shipped across the country and then back again. Luckily, we buy from the harbor and the fishermen hook us up.

    *Do you have any idea what 25 perecnt VAT does to commerce? (After you’ve already paid your taxes once! Think about it, you need a guy to replace a window or repair your car. The bill comes, 200 bucks. Add 50. 1000 becomes 1250 and so on)
    *Do you know that it costs almost 9 bucks for a gallon of gas and 50 dollars each way across a bridge that I need to take to go surfing on the west coast…which is 5 hours away!
    *To get to Sweden – nearest pointbreak – it costs 60 bucks on the ferry and takes nearly 2 hours each direction. (note: the waves are a complete washout/ mess/ storm/ disaster here where we live 90 percent of the time. There are 3/4 ok days a year nearby)

    You know, if there were good waves here, within striking distance that I didn’t have to sacrifice seeing my children and Camilla to go surf, I’d do it, I’d stay. But that is NOT the case. Everything about being a surfer here is stress:
    * don’t know if there will be waves until 8 hours before,
    * call in sick from work,
    *take the car,
    *wife can’t get to kindergarten with Benji w/o car,
    *wife with the boys all day w/o my help,
    *costs about 80 bucks if I go alone (YES, PER SURF!),
    *hide emotions and truth at work when you are in a great mood after surfing for the first time in 5 weeks.

    But what about the Happiest People? Yes, there is health care. It is good for everyone – despite long waits for specialist visits and non- life threatening surgeries , great for a few. And in America, health care is certainly a huge problem for many many Americans. Yes, the minimalist style is elegant and their knowledge of and use of light is remarkable. Yes, there is waaaaaaaay less pollution than many other places on earth and a great deal of the country’s energy (20 PERCENT!) comes from wind mills. And the same crazy taxes that make things ill affordable, also ensures that cars with smaller engines and a greater number of more fuel efficient diesel ones are sold and driven. Or, you can pay 250 bucks a month for an ‘all zones’ train pass. Thats what I paid when I worked in the city to get there from where I live. That’s what, 3000 bucks a year – to get to work!? Yes, there is a tax credit for that, but not that much.

    Anyways, the expenses are not the point. The lack of warmth from many people towards newcomers (not visitors!) is not the point. The lack of diversity in cheese. (that guy was SPACING OUT when he said the best cheese comes from DK – dude, has this guy never been to France or Spain? (or Italy, Croatia… Maybe he should visit Carrefour one day!) The point is…THERE ARE NO FUCKING WAVES, MOUNTAINS or vast tracts of nature to lose yourself in around here (unless one drive out to the west coast or gets on a sail boat, or head sover to Sweden). it is FUCKING freezing in the winter and the water is like 2-3 degrees for 4 months a year. There are nasty jellyfish and intermittent episodes of toxic algae in the sea come August when it gets nice and toasty and that’s the truth dude.

    So , yah, Danes are happy. We have 6 weeks vacation – paid, we can fly off to Morocco or Spain and use the fuel and carbon emissions on jets instead of in our cars. We can sit in a candle lit room on a glum day and watch raindrops whilst listening to cool music and checking out the “PH” lamps and warm candle light reflecting off some hot but lazy barmaids face(all very fun and cozy things) But, you want to be outside? Ride a mountainbike with your shirt off feeling the sun on your back ? – Forget about it! You want to surf a decent wave? Forget about it! You want to see wildlife? Forget about it? No es para mi hombre. I’d rather bust my ass and take a chance in my life than be complacent, secure and sport a half-grin. Quiero energia! I want VIBRANCY! I’d rather have a cultural mish mash than a culture that cannot mesh with anything new.

    Vibrancy, that’s why we’re moving. And my parents are getting older. And did I mention 6 foot swells at 18 second periods, seaweed forests and last minute trips to Baja? Or last minute ski trips? Or meeting people without making plans 2 months in advance? Do I sound frustrated? No….RESOLUTE!

    But, it is a great place to visit and all. Its even a great place to spend a few years. But to consider this life….forever. No way! We will show you the very best of it! Sorry if I rant a bit too much, its just that I am so fucking sick of hearing about this happiest country in the world BS. There are happy places, happy homes, happy people and happy children…but happy countries? People here – in this fair, if almost to a fault – country, are not super stressed when unchallenged – and it is EASY to be unchallenged here. If that qualifies as happiness, I’d say, yep they must be the happiest but, is that a life worth living? My challenges revolve around nature. Not to conquer but simply to enjoy the small challenges of making a deep barrel or swimming to the bottom of a giant kelp to pick up a huge crab. I could get all Danish psycho and switch to marathons and entrepreneurship to seek my challenges but that ain’t me brother. I am straight up Californian to the core.

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  52. The question of why a happy country could have more suicides than an “unhappy nation” would definitely be interesting to study in greater depth. It doesn’t seem mathematically impossible, but you have to wonder why people are doing themselves in if everything is so great in their country.

    I like the sunlight idea, but I also wonder if part of it could be related to relative happiness levels. If everyone is around 50 in “happiness” and you find yourself at 40, that’s not going to be nearly as depressing as if everyone else is at 90 and you’re at 40. It might make your 40 start to seem like 30, or 20, etc. – especially in countries where people frequently have an expectation of happiness.

    It would also be interesting to see if cultural differences play into the way suicides are reported. Maybe countries with a greater social stigma around suicide are more likely to declare questionable deaths accidental.

    And on a lighter note – Am I the only one who looked at the larger version of the happiness map and felt bad that the Great Lakes were so bummed out? :)

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  53. @Tim:

    That’s also a factor I was considering. I know if it hadn’t been for snowboarding here in Utah, I’d have gone crazy by now. The season has ended, but yet… still a few leftover snow storms… those damn resorts!

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  54. Stefanie: Maybe I’m the only one here who has read it, but ‘The Geography of Bliss’ by Eric Weiner that I mentioned talks exactly about sunlight, suicide, and social stigma play into happiness. And no, I’m not Eric Weiner, but his book hits upon this very subject exactly and in great depth.

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  55. I’m Danish. Your description of Denmark was eerily spot on for a person who only visited for a couple of days. I was surprised to see your book “4-timers arbejdsuge” on the shelves a few days ago in Copenhagen. I’m sure it will do well.

    I hope you would consider holding a lecture at Copenhagen Business School or the University of Copenhagen next time around.

    Like

  56. I live in Denmark for the last 15 years of my life. I cant see this picture in front of me. Danes are not happy ( yeah only when they are drunk) but sober they hate them self, their familiy and the goverment.

    My experience is that Danes are very fals people, and when they smile to you dont expect it to be real. They will rather lie to you insted of being honest and tell you face to face that hey dont like you, because you are diffrent then them.

    They have also some unwriten rules they grow up by.
    You can read them if you want

    http://www.bearcy.com/janteloven.html

    Honestly often I wonder why turists come to Denmark, here are nothing special.

    Yeah Christania is my favorit place in this country, and it is because iI have been there almost every day through out the last 4-5 years and smooked my brain out in weed and hashish.

    I have friends from countries all over the world, EU, Sout America, Africa and Asia. All of them are more open minded then danes.

    I just have moved to Sweeden, because it is cheaper and people will accept you for the one you are. I these 2 monthes I have said HEY to more neightboors then during my whole life in Denmark.

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  57. Tivoli didn’t make your top six Tim?
    That place is great, the original theme park.
    Copenhagen is the nicest European Capitol to visit in a few days or less.
    Beautiful architecture, easy to navigate and almost everything is in walking distance. Christiana is a great place to hang out, not sure what it is like less pusher street. Copenhagen is a must see for anyone travelling through Western Europe. Getting there from Hamburg is fun by itself.
    Oh, and to those bashing the taxes in Denmark, I didn’t see anyone sleeping on the street, it is Socialism at work…cradle to grave.

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  58. Great post ! I’ll visit Denmark soon !

    I have a theory about the happiness measured in Denmark , Switzerland.

    I live in Switzerland.

    I think that , when someone asks you to take a survey, you start rationalizing POSITIVE STUFF. You start thinking that you ARE LIVING IN GOOD STANDARDS. You have clean water, good wages, good bars, good nature, mountains here.. Blabla.. You rationalize all this PLUS maybe incounsciously you compare yourself to other countries ( e.g. poor people in central-Africa. ) PLUS maybe you just want to make yourself feel happy by reponding a questionary happiness with the fact that you are happy. Cuz after all, who WANTS TO BE LIVE AS AN UNHAPPY PERSON?

    On the other side you have emotions. A LOT OF PEOPLE have problems controlling their emotions. It’s normal. Natural. We are animals born to survive. Evolution. And Sometimes, in a super good rich country, we lose that SWING. We don’t have that instinct to fight for our lives. We think, what’s the meaning of our lives..? We feel empty, we feel sad. We start to let our emotions take control. Negative emotion inside. They can pile up. ( and that’s a whole other theory ). ( I believe spirituality can help you in a big way to deal with your emotions. ) You feel sad, meaningless, and get depressed. More depressed. ….. Can finish terribly.

    Emotional swings.

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  59. Switzerland was where I took my first semi-retirement after automating my workflow at home, a’ la 4 Hour Workweek. I must say it’s very happy!

    I spent almost a week there about $1000 bucks, including Travel and Lodging (couchsurfing.com)

    I made a happy slideshow: http://www.sixpeeps.com

    Thanks for the inspiration!

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  60. Wow, read all the comments and you get confused!

    I guess things and countries are complex. And that you see things around you strongly colored by your emotional and educational makeup.

    I’m Danish, and love the place, but not currently living there due to the fact that I would be paying around 70% in taxes.

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  61. Quite surprising for me as a Dutch citizen that The Netherlands is marked as “Happy” on the map! I expected an “Average” or below…

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  62. Kaere Tim,

    You didn’t mention the beautiful Kattegat Sea in summertime, ochre-colored thatch roofed houses and rose-hip lined pathways along the craggy beach shore of Kikhavn, visiting with fishermen in Hundested as you wait for them to wrap up your little piece of freshly caught monkfish, that the are home to Novo Nordisk, the biotech giant who leads the world in the fight against diabetes…. and you didn’t mention the incredibly funny dry wit of the Danes!

    Seriously, I enjoyed your article! Tak!

    KR,
    Jennifer Dale

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  63. Those are some interesting points about Copenhagen. I spent some time in Copenhagen, and a lot of my friends that came in for the weekend really enjoyed themselves. However, it’s a lot better for a weekend than anything longer.

    I think Guillermo made some good points, and if you stay long, things start to add up. 100 DKK = $21.20.. so when we went out and the cheapest beers were 50 DKK, we were hurting.

    Also, there are tons of good-looking women, but Danes, and Scandinavians in general are very private. In most other European cities I’ve been too, locals like showing people around, or will invite you out that very night. I was a bit surprised by how reserved Danes were. They don’t smile, say hi, or talk to people in lines, etc.

    I did enjoy the small size of the city and tidy public transport. The trains are 24 hours on Thursday, Friday, Saturday to accommodate late-nighters.

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    • We don’t like to interrupt, but we like to talk with people, that doesn’t mean we’re reserved, it means that we care about what others think about us, we don’t want to annoy them

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  64. Of all the places I’ve traveled, I’ve always said that Denmark was the country that I enjoyed most, but I never could put my finger on just why. I’ve had more exciting times in more exciting places, but things just made more sense in to me in Denmark. Thanks for the post, Tim, and to everyone else for the comments!

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  65. Hi Tim,

    Are you still in Denmark or did you leave the country? I thought I say you today in Stockholm, Sweden. It was either you or a look-alike.

    regs,
    -Jeroen-

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  66. My niece is off to Denmark for a year exchange so it will be interesting to hear her take on if they are happy. I agree that SAD is a force that is much underrated, I think everyone suffers with it to a degree, just some more than others and many sadly take action on it’s effects. There has to be a connection when we see the suicide attempts and such skyrocket in the short days of winter here in Canada, which is rated as in the top 10 happy.

    Hey what happened to the Forum? Was going to go back and find some information there but it’s link takes me back to the Resource page.

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  67. Ive been in Denmark, Copenhagen a few times now. I love it, LOVE IT! No other place in the world makes me feel better. You are always surrounded by intelligent people, who smiles, drinks a beer and enjoying their life in this magnificent city! Nino: The Danes are only reserved when you dont confront them with a hi or ‘wanna have a beer with me?’. Its their city, so why should they come to you? Theyre just living their normal day life, your the one who visits! If you socialize with danes, making a deeper conversation, you will get a whole different view of them. Ive been almost all around the world, and Copenhagen is by far the place i learned and experienced valuable things, id taken home with me. You get that real european feeling here. My advise: go to the city, have a glass of wine or beer, and find a dane who can guide you around the city, as THEY live it themselves. (its a bit different than the “turist spots” and the little murmaid. The danes laugh and cant understand why that little sculpture is so popular. Go soul search the city, and you will get blown away. If you like an open mind, free spirit and a few hippies, go to Copenhagen. whether you like food, music, theater, art, design – whatever, this is the place! (dont forget Christiania) a unique place on planet earth. Delightful article Tim.

    (excuse my half bad english) :)

    SKÅL.

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  68. Tim, you got most things about Denmark right. Most :)

    > Most Danes agree that Christiania’s days are numbered.

    I think you missed the historical perspective here. Most of the people that think so have always thought so. Among the large group of Christiania supporters that’s been around for along time I don’t see much of a change – a lot of us still defend Christiania as we have always done, but off course, the majority of average Danes do not. It’s just not anything new …

    One of the main reasons Danes come out as being the happiest was very well put in the 60 minutes program on the issue: It’s because we have such low expectations. As a Dane its OK to be second – you don’t have to win everything. Being a small nation we are used to not being number on in everything. We don’t expect gold and wild things in life, so we are happy for what we get. And the fact is, that mfar the majority of people – more than most other places, get what it takes to live a relatively good life.

    I don’t think the number of suicides is particular high in Denmark. In certain areas of Greenland it is very, very high, so this – being part of Denmark, may skew the numbers. Or they may be reported differently in different countries. In any case, if you ask the average Dane he she will say like I do, that we really don’t see many suicides. Most people don’t know any – even remotely, that have committed suicide.

    On a final note … Tim, you may have fallen in love with Denmark. I love it too – but I was born here. But really, I don’t think you would like to live here from what I know about you reading you book. Off course I could be totally wrong – after all, we never met, but I think you would have a hard time with the commitment to the community that living here requires – e.g. by paying such a high tax as we do and living with the many behavioral laws we have (most legal issues between people here are governed by law – not by contracts. We have far less freedom to make individual agreements than you have in the US. We think it’s easier but I think you would find it “communistic” in its nature).

    I am not saying this to disappoint you or scare you away from Denmark. I love that you love it here. Truly! It’s just that sometimes “paradise” may just be paradise as long as you can return home from it after a vacation … :)

    – Mikkel deMib Svendsen

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  69. Danish folks have been some of the friendliest I’ve met in my travels, random meetings on trains, at hostels and whatnot, but I have never been to Denmark. I hope the travel budgets get so I can adventure there soon.
    Thanks for the great article,

    Dale

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  70. Thanks for the Happy List. I have visited Stockholm and agree, that this is a city that is vibrant and full of energy. I will work on visiting Denmark in May.
    Tim, I find your book to be intoxicating delicious.
    It has really increased my zen for exploring the world on my own terms.
    Thanks and keeping on sending us daily” food for thought”.

    Stan

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  71. Thanks for the Happy List. I have visited Stockholm and agree, that this is a city that is vibrant and full of energy. I will work on visiting Denmark in May.
    Tim, I find your book to be intoxicating delicious.
    It has really increased my zen for exploring the world on my own terms.
    Thanks and keep on sending us daily” food for thought”.

    Stan

    Like

  72. Hi Tim
    I saw you in danish television on prime time yesterday.

    It was a great broadcast with many good points from your book.

    Thank you for being so nice to us ;o)

    Mainly, I agree with your thoughts. We could have met to Tango at Tingluti or Taba, but I was out dancing Salsa in stead (http://www.danseguiden.dk )

    I have red your book in english and have taken LOT of notes – and now it is translated to danish – GREAT – I will buy it ;o)

    To be frank, your book have boosted my thoughts about working less. I have now everything set up, so it doesn’t matter where in the world I am, I can give my customers the same support no matter where I stay.

    I am also a lot in to building automatic systems, that delivers a steady income no matter if I work or not ;o)

    THANK YOU, Tim

    Best regards,

    Christian Garrelts

    Denmark

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