Tuesday, 25 April 2017

The Year of Living Danishly

Read the World: Denmark


With Britain's political landscape in a right mess, I thought I'd read about a place where they have things thoroughly sorted. Denmark is as close to an Utopian society I think we can hope to get. When Helen Russell's husband is offered his dream job at Lego HQ, she wonders if the change of country will make her happier. What is it that makes Danes so content, and can she embrace it within a year?

At the time of writing, Denmark was number one in the World Happiness Report (and is regularly close to the top). Danes are well looked after by the state, and so they never feel like they have to stay in a job they hate for fear of poverty. The country is family minded so taking time away from work is not frowned upon. In fact, Denmark have some of the shortest hours worked yet still being productive. Happier workers are better workers.

Yes, taxes are high to pay for such things, but Danes still have that sense of community which means they don't resent paying to keep the country great. They all know they will use something state paid in their lifetime so why not contribute? They are not a petty people.

If anyone plays the martyr card, staying late or working too much, they’re more likely to get a leaflet about efficiency or time management dropped on their desk than any sympathy.

Hygge has become quite fashionable in recent years, and you will likely have heard about it, even if just from the books lining bookshop windows of late. The idea partly comes from the fact that during the dark winter, you have to just stay inside. So get comfy and cosy, appreciate the little things in life and spend time with your family and close friends. It's not a wild lifestyle, but one I would feel at home with.

Whilst I found the content interesting I didn't particularly like Helen, well maybe she grew on me a bit more as she became more Danish. Still, at the start she seems like exactly the sort of person you'd expect to work at a glossy magazine. Her tone implies she is expecting not to like Denmark and is actively trying not to. Until she embraces hygge she is a little bit of a snob.

Danes stay happy in winter because it’s so awful outside that coming home inspires an overwhelming rush of relief and gratitude at having survived the elements.

She relies a lot on phoning up experts to ask questions about the country rather than getting involved. It's a valid form of research but I don't think she needs to keep explaining about the phone calls. She does ask everyone to rate their happiness on a scale of one-to-ten (I don't think anyone answers less than 8) so maybe this is the only way she felt could could fit this in.

The book repeatedly returns to Jante's Law, something many Danes adhere to. It is a set of ten rules to live by:

You're not to think you are anything special.
You're not to think you are as good as we are.
You're not to think you are smarter than we are.
You're not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
You're not to think you know more than we do.
You're not to think you are more important than we are.
You're not to think you are good at anything.
You're not to laugh at us.
You're not to think anyone cares about you.
You're not to think you can teach us anything.

Anyway, I'm glad I read it as it's an interesting insight into Denmark, even if I didn't love it.

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Book Source: Purchased

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