Happy Danes: 3 Key Aspects of the Danish Mentality

Scandinavian lifestyle
3 things I learned from my Danish family about the happy life

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Why are people in Denmark happier than Germans? As a half Dane, I know both cultures and keep noticing the differences, especially in mentality. These three especially contribute to the fact that life in Denmark is much more relaxed than it is here.

The Scandinavian peoples, especially the Danes, top the rankings of the happiest countries in the world every year. According to the “World Happiness Report”, Denmark managed to land in second place this year – only Finland is on top. By the way, Sweden and Norway are in seventh and eighth place. what is the reason? Why do people in Nordic countries seem so much happier and more relaxed than others – above all us Germans (hello, place 14!), even though we do a similarly good job in terms of prosperity and security?

As a half Dane, I spent some of my childhood in Denmark and still visit my family there regularly. Time and time again it amazes me how different mentality is from German mentality. This mentality clearly ensures that Danes are more balanced and happier than other peoples. So how did they do it?

Insights from a half-Danish woman: why people in Denmark feel more comfortable than us

1. Business is just business

The first thing that comes to mind is work, or as we like to say, work-life balance. To be honest, the people in Denmark are a lot better than us at that. On average, Danes work less than Germans, (full-time) working hours from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. And on Fridays, most don’t even think about staying in the office or working from home longer than midday.

When my mother and I visit family for the weekend, we often have misunderstandings when we work the same hours on Fridays as on other days. My uncle has usually been sitting lounging at home since midday, waiting for strange, work-obsessed relatives from Germany.

Of course there are also differences in Denmark depending on the industry and profession, but the work week is usually 35-37 hours, while Germans often have to work 40 hours. We don’t even want to start here with the plans and ideas of many politicians to increase the weekly working time to 42 hours.

And even if we cannot change our working hours, and above all not as individuals in the system, we can certainly work from our perspective. Many Danes, just like Germans, love their jobs and enjoy working. But in my experience, they don’t focus on their work as much as they focus on us. A job is a job, but real life happens before and after it. And that definitely makes you happier introducing yourself through your job or even putting your health at risk all too often because we invest so much time and energy in it.

2. Hygge – The Real Thing

Certainly, no article about Denmark can do without hygge. But I mean here in the actual sense of the word. It’s not as much about cozy furniture style, cuddly pillows, and hot chocolate as advertising wants us to believe. Hygge is all about having a good time, especially in terms of being with others. And yes: we can spend that quality time in the dim lights on the couch with a good book, sometimes alone, but more often with our best friends or family. BUT: It could be a nice evening at our favorite pub or at a festival like hyggelig.

It’s all about convenience, but I always hear the word only in a social context. The Danes place great importance on spending quality time with the people they love. In general, I’ve never come across the term hygge as a noun, but rather a verb or adjective. So the focus is on consciously making yourself comfortable, preferably with others — not on forcing everything into our lives as an artificial concept by filling our apartment with woolen blankets and scented candles. Those who truly appreciate hygge moments will definitely be happier in the long run.

3. More confidence, please!

The big difference that I still notice between my family in Denmark and my environment here in Germany is the doors that literally open. When my mom and I visit the family (after we finally call it a Friday afternoon…), it’s very normal that we just come home. I don’t remember seeing the front doors locked or the bell rang.

Now I must say that my family lives in a very small town. In Copenhagen or Aarhus, not everyone will leave their apartment doors locked. But still, that little example says a lot about the Danish mindset and the confidence you have in others. By comparison, in the small German town I grew up in, I’ve never seen people enter the house through the open door.

Of course, the leap of faith that many people give to their fellow human beings is sometimes offended in Denmark, too. But in general, not assuming the worst just leads to a much better mood and makes people more comfortable.

As trite as it may sound: If we can see life and teamwork as more relaxed, we automatically become more relaxed – and therefore happier. It may even rank higher than the current 14th in the World Happiness Report.


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