Monday, March 15, 2010

Why is Denmark so happy?



Year after year, in studies of Subjective Well-Being, Denmark is declared the happiest country. The video embedded below discusses why Denmark comes out on top.

Does the information presented in this video reflect our class discussion on the link between income and happiness?

What can governments do to help us be happier?

Do you think that the main economic goal of governments should be to grow their economies or make us happy? Can they do both at once? To what degree might the two goals be incompatible?


15 comments:

  1. Since thousands of years humans have always wanted to become happier. However, often people cannot distinguish between happiness and money and therefore also materialism. As most students said in the class discussion, I also agree when saying that happiness and income do have some sort of a connection because life is easier when you have enough to eat and you do not have to worry about starvation, shelter, education your future and your children’s future. However, the world has grown into a place in which many people think that happiness can be bought by a large money spent on enormous houses, expensive cars, brand clothing and so on which are all there not only for making life more comfortable but primarily for ‘showing off’. I found it very interesting that Denmark is the happiest country, although it does not have the best weather conditions, is not the richest or healthiest nationality, but as mentioned in the video: the expectations are lower (even in history where Denmark has made a lot of battle loses), the amount of crime is extremely small and the education is supported by the government paying everything decreasing the stress level drastically. I think many people have forgotten, through the impact of comparison and television, that money cannot replace family relationships, spiritual satisfaction, truthful friends, loving your community and loving yourself. It is difficult to say whether the government should concentrate on the economic growth or the happiness of people, since there will always be some people who are happy workaholics and other people who get unhappy with a lot of stress. Therefore the government should support specific programs which were also mentioned in the readings, such as charity, peace, care for elderly, sport, religion, cultural activities, health organizations and many more which make people happier. Another point I would also like to point out that the government will never have the power to make every single person happy, but we as individuals need to be active ourselves finding the right balance of health, family, work, friends, religion, sport and love in order to become happy.

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  2. I agree with Vivian that it seems surprising (at first) that Denmark is the happiest country in the world.
    "If you ask people on the street where they think the happiest country in the world, they'll say, you know, like, tropical islands and nice places, like Italy or Spain. Places with nice weather and good food. But in Europe, they're actually the most unhappy people," Dr. Christensen explains.
    The reason why Denmark is so happy is the Danish mentality. Danes seem to be very modest as Dr. Christensen states, “That Denmark made the worst, number 20, and another country was number one. I'm pretty sure the Danish television would have said, 'Well, number 20's not too bad. You know it's still in the top 25, that's not so bad,'" The quote shows that the Danish like to be modest and simply don’t have very high expectations, thus disappointment is low.
    Not only the Danish attitude makes it the happiest country in the world but it also has the economic bases for happiness, The government provides free health care and education, which limits stress. This combination of economic support and the modest Danish attitude towards life brings the happiness to Denmark.
    By: Leonard Gorbach

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  3. What sets Denmark apart from other nations is not the fact that it has chosen happiness over wealth, for despite being a country of only 5.5 million it ranks in the top 50 for richest countries(http://www.aneki.com/richest.html). What truly makes Denmark different is a population that Professor Christianson describes as “homogeneous”. As our discussion revealed, a major reason why higher incomes don’t make us happier is the rivalry between people that exists. In Denmark, there are “no real disparities of wealth”, keeping the tension between ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ relatively low. There the American Dream, fueled by the drive to be the best, doesn’t exist. This lack of differentiation between people results in a low crime rate, which for most is something to be happy about. And how did the Danes achieve such a feat? Through a government policy we discussed: taxing. The average Dane pays the heavy tax of $50,000 and with this money, the government offers free healthcare, free education and even free child and elderly care. The stability that all of these offer takes the stress off of people who otherwise would have to fight for such services. And as we all know a person without stress is a happy person.

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  4. Sanneke RothenbergerMarch 22, 2010 at 2:11 AM

    The main statement made in the movie was that Danes are happier because they have lower expectations from the beginning than more powerful countries. I agree that people having lower expectation are mostly happier, because they have a bigger change of achieving their goals than when they would have higher expectations.
    However, this is for every individual different and should not generalize the people in different countries. This is why I don’t think governments are able to find a way to make people happier. Happiness is very subjective and even individuals don’t really know if they are happy on a scale of 1 – 10. This makes it questionable if the people asked really were able to say the truth.
    Still, I also believe that governments should not only look at economic growth, but that they should additionally look at the human aspect. This means that, for example, parents should not have to decide between their job and career and their children. It should be easier for them to do both.
    At the end, time and relationships will have much more value when the income rises in the world and so when, for example, parents are able to spend more time with their children, people will maybe become happier.

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  5. I would say the most important part of creating a happy country is uniting the people in the community. Governments should create parks, and promote community activities and things like service projects. Governments' main goal should not be to increase the GDP, but rather to help all citizens have the opportunity to live without constant worry, of economics, politics, crime, or anything else, and allow everyone to attain a great education and do what they want in life. I think the main reason Denmark has succeeded is because of their socialist economy. Too many people in the US are afraid of higher taxes, thinking it will just hurt them. If all the taxes go toward unnecessary war, then that's definitely true, but if the government paid for everyone to have health care, and for everyone to have an education, people could truly be happier. People need to stop focusing on money, and focus instead on making life better (as well as more equal) for everyone. Unfortunately, this is not about to happen in our modern, unidealistically materialistic economies, where too many people only care about money, and are under the illusion that having more stuff than anyone else is what will make them happy.

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  6. What makes Denmark so happy? It definately isnt money. Denmark has been rated the happiest country for several years now. Although they rank in the top 50 for richest countries, it is not the money that makes them happy. Several people believe that Denmark is happy because of their low expectations for life, and when they dont get what they expected they get over it. Like Catie said,in Denmark they are expected to pay a tax of $50,000. Even though this is a really huge tax, the government is able to use this money to supply free education, free health care, subsidized child care, and free elder care. With these "free" things being provided the people of Denmark have a huge weight lifted off their back, and are able to proceed with life being happy, because they dont have to worry about anything. So I believe thet Denmark has proved that without a high income you can still enjoy life and be happy.

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  7. In my opinion GDP is still the most clear and comprehensible measure of economic growth because the articles overlooked some major factors, such as:- The difference between GDP and Happy planet index- GDP is the measure of “economic growth” and happy planet index is a measure of “sense of well being.”
    They both serve as useful statistics that governments can use to help form their fiscal and domestic policies, though it is illogical to suggest that one can be discarded in preference of the other.
    Economic growth is the highest on every government’s agenda, simply because the people desire it.
    So, happiness requires not only a change of policies but also a change in mind set.
    Developed and developing countries should have different priorities on their to-do list because the tradeoff between happiness and wealth is much smaller in developed countries than in developing nations.
    It is ridicules to expect a developing country such as India and Brazil to forego steady economic growth to provide unemployment benefits.
    Similarly, during the discussion in the class it was brought up that Germany, which is a developed nation, cannot afford to ‘sacrifice’ its position as a super power in an attempt to, for example, reduce its carbon footprint.
    It is the rich countries who can afford to make such arrangements in order to make their denizens happy and maintaining their status as ‘super power’ or wanting ‘world dominance’ does not ‘add’ to the national happiness.
    in developing nations wealth is directly proportion to happiness, but in countries like USA a sort of ‘diminishing marginal satisfaction’ effect has taken root (as is the norm in most developed countries), that is a result of ‘habitualization’ to material wealth and ‘comparison’ to others over riches.
    Even though this effect is part of human nature and occurs in developing nations as well, it is justifiable for nations like the BRIC nations to focus on economic development because it is proven form many studies that demand for environmental quality increases with increase in per capita income. (samuelson Nordhaus) and happiness from material possessions in developed countries is short term but in developing countries it is long term and the impact on living standards is far greater.

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  8. Although i wasn't present during the class discussion, I'm pretty sure of what was discussed - that wealth does not equal immediate happiness. But it is not only the problem of money which can have an impact on a person's, or a nation's happiness. Social status, personal life, and general outlooks on life are major parts too. In the video it was expressed that the Danes have much lower life expectations than, for example, Americans do. They do not strive to live the AMerican Dream which is big family, big job, big car, big house, and big salary. The Danes are much more modest in living and they realize that it is not likely they will achieve all that - so they put their expectations lower, which leaves less room for disappointment. But also - the American Dream isnt that appealing to them - when one of the young Uni. students was asked whether he wanted to live in the States, he answered no, and that he surely wouldn't want his children growing up there. Furthermore the Danes have less financial stresses - free healthcare and education all the way until graduation from Uni - that is a major chunk of worry from the paychecks that is taken away. Most other countries which are less happy make their people pay privately for most of education and healthcare. This can be extremely burdening to people and their lives, giving them stress and lowering their happiness levels! THe Danes have a relatively less stressful life - so no wonder that they are the happiest nation.
    However, I do not think that a government should solely focus on keeping its people happy, as economic growth is substantially more useful and important. Although Denmark is the happiest country, it is not the most wealthy (which is important in maintaining a good life in a country) and no where near the most powerful. Governments should of course consider the happiness of their nation and make an effort to add to it (perhaps healthcare and education be paid by government - which is present in many countries already, in Germany (unless it is a private school) all the way until the ABI education is free and government-paid) however really focus primarily on the growth of their economy. In the end it is the economy that makes the world go round (sometimes it fails, yes, but most of the time!) and happiness doesn't really. Of course it would be fantastic if every country in the world was very happy - but it shouldn't be a source of too much time, energy and money as in the end it really does depend from person to person, and that is just too difficult to really manage.

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  9. I believe that the information in the movie does indeed reflect the class discussion we had about the link between income and happiness. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:
    http://www.union.umd.edu/GH/basic_needs/images/maslows_hierarchy2.jpg
    a human being will have to satisfy all of these needs in order to get happy. A few of these needs can be served with a sufficient amount of income, for example physiological and security needs can be bought; However, the social and esteems needs cannot be bought with a large amount of income; they need time and care to develop and evolve over time within ones social groups and self-conscious. If one focuses too much on gaining status and recognition which are part of the esteem needs, she/he might lose track of the other needs and never reach the point of self actualization. I also think that the Danes might be as happy as they are because they might not aim for perfect self actualization, after all the movie described them as rather happy because they don’t get very disappointed if things don’t turn out as they should have. The Danes will possibly also have a lighter view of things, because they have nothing to worry about, if anything goes wrong they are always cared for by the state. I think that one of the few things that governments can do to make us happy is to secure the basic physiological and safety needs which we would usually have to cover using money which we have to worry about earning. If needs are covered and nobody has to be worried about what might happen if… , then the people will be able to focus their life and energy on satisfying social and esteem needs which would eventually lead to self actualization. On account of the stated opinion I find that governments should not only focus on the growth of an economy, but rather on both economic growth and making the citizens happy. Of course economic growth will have to be smaller which results in a small incompatibility of the two goals; however, it is achievable to balance economic growth and happiness.

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  10. Adrian RadzyminskiMarch 24, 2010 at 3:50 PM

    As the car example in the movie shows that materialsm only brings satisfaction in the short run but as people are greedy they will always want more and therefore can never rest on what they have achieved.
    In the movie and discussion, it was also said that participation in social activites helps to increase happiness. When people can spend time with others they enjoy to be with(i.e. family, friends), their self-estteem increases as they feel the sympathy towards them and get the feeling of being part of a community.
    Therefore, government should encourage social acitivies such as streetfestivals and absars where people can spend time with others they enjoy being around.
    In the short clip about Denmark which is ranked number 1 in happiness it was also shown that if stress is reliefed, people start to enjoy life better and have more time to spend in leisure and things they enjoy.
    The example of the danish students who are given unlimited time to finish their studying and therefore being more relaxed and propably happier than say students from stressful universities supports this claim.
    In conclusion, I think that government should concentrate on having an healthy economic growth rate because otherwise it would cause many problems to the country such as inflation and unemploymelnt which in reaction ends in unhappiness. In addition, government should also concentrate on increasing happiness.

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  11. Although i wasn't present during the class discussion, I'm pretty sure of what was discussed - that wealth does not equal immediate happiness, but it is not only the problem of money which can have an impact on a person's, or a nation's happiness. Social status, personal life, and general outlooks on life are major parts too. In the video it was expressed that the Danes have much lower life expectations than, for example, Americans do (the American dream). The Danes are much more modest in living and they realize that it is not likely they will achieve all that - so they put their expectations lower, which leaves less room for disappointment, but also the American Dream isnt that appealing to them - when one of the young Uni. students was asked whether he wanted to live in the States, he answered no, and that he surely wouldn't want his children growing up there. Furthermore the Danes have less financial stresses - free healthcare and education all the way until graduation from Uni - that is a major chunk of worry from the paychecks that is taken away whereas most other countries which are less happy make their people pay privately for most of education and healthcare. This can be extremely burdening to people and their lives, giving them stress and lowering their happiness levels, so the Danes have a relatively less stressful life - no wonder that they are the happiest nation. However, I do not think that a government should solely focus on keeping its people happy, as economic growth is substantially more useful and important, because although Denmark is the happiest country, it is not the most wealthy (which is important in maintaining a good life in a country) and no where near the most powerful. Governments should of course consider the happiness of their nation and make an effort to add to it (perhaps healthcare and education be paid by government - which is present in many countries already, in Germany (unless it is a private school) all the way until the ABI education is free and government-paid) however really focus primarily on the growth of their economy. In the end it is the economy that makes the world go round (sometimes it fails, yes, but most of the time!) and happiness doesn't really. Of course it would be fantastic if every country in the world was very happy - but it shouldn't be a source of too much time, energy and money as in the end it really does depend from person to person, and that is just too difficult to really manage

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  12. The main point that is made in the movie is that the Danes have lower expectations than other countries. This means that it is easier to make them happy. This is because their goals are not as high as for others. Perhaps the Danes are also more easily to be satisfied.
    In my opinion, there is only a small connection between income and happiness. As Vivian said, it is easier to live when having more money, so that one is able to buy and afford necessities. But on the other hand people should not spend their money on too many unnecessary things which they do not really need.
    Another point that I want to make is that money in general does not make happier. I think it is much more important to have a good health to have a supportive family, to have truthful friends and to be satisfied with what you have.

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  13. Moritz v. TresckowMarch 25, 2010 at 1:25 PM

    Denmark is a special case compared to other countries, since it experienced "400 years" of lost battles, wars and overall hardship, causing them to grow exessively modest. It is much easier for them to experience happiness than richer and financially successful countries. A huge factor on the high happiness rate in denmark is definetely the security they receive from their government, starting from an excellent health care to a guarenteed college entry. As a counterbalance, the danish have to pay huge amounts of tax, around 50%, but strangely enough, they happily take this severe drawback in order to keep their treasured benefits.

    As an example of Denmark, the thought comes to mind that happiness cannot be bought, and therefore governments should do everything to increase GNH rates. In my opinion, this is not so, since rich countries tended happier than the poor ones for obvious reasons. However, the richest countries in the world did not score as well as expected, proving that wealth is not everything also. Therefore, the median wealth seems to have the best balance of happiness to wealth, thus resulting in the conclusion that governments can only promote financial growth to a certain extent, before harming population happiness. In order to achieve this equilibrium point, governments have to advertise socialization and leisure time, unlike the german government, who cut off money transfer to german communities in order to save money, resulting in a decay of community funded organisations such as kindergardens and swimming pools as an example.

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  14. Including the video it is right that people has limited expectation but it does necessary to have at least some minimum existence like job, house, social security, health care and after retirement safety. All of them can be provided mostly by the government therefor when we are talking about different with different system and different level of life standard, we can not rich to a convenient answer. For instants in some countries like Scandinavian (Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland) nearly most of the people have all the minimum necessity for living. Therefor the limited expectation is on top of these issues. When the people in the third-world countries can not provide for them selves enough food for living how can we compare these people with those who are living in wealthy and social caring societies.

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  15. I agree with Moritz that government intervention and a countrywide goal to increase happiness is important for the happiness of a country. Humans want to be lead to a goal, and the best way of achieving that goal would be to have a government leading the way and pioneering in the field of GNH. Although drastic measures can be effective (as we have seen with Bhutan), more subtle measures such as promoting community and non-economic goals for citizens will also increase the happiness of a country. I do not believe that happiness should be the sole or even most important factor for a country to develop. Countries should be diverse and consider promoting national happiness, but unfortunately must be more intent on increasing their economy, because slipping behind in the world-wide economy can have a drastically negative impact on the happiness of the country. However, I believe the main reason we have not seen more national happiness initiatives from governments is precisely because it can and will interfere with the economic goals governments must fulfill. When money is spent on building a sense of community, that is taken out of further bolstering a country's economy. Unfortunately, this is just the way it is. Without a major reformation, it seems as if countries really don't have an incentive to promote national happiness.

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