The full title of this book is a bit on the long side: The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country; that already explains what the book is about.
Helen Russell was your typical always running exhausted, coffee-fueled Londoner, one day her husband was offered a job in Denmark, and not just anywhere in Denmark, but at Lego (based in Billund, Jutland, not the most exciting part of the country). After some consideration they decide to move for a year, he to work for Lego and she to work as a freelance journalist and conduct a year-long investigation into why Danes are so happy and what do they do to stay this way.
The book is divided into 12 main chapters, one for each month of Helen’s discoveries, every chapter nicely summed up in the end. She goes through everything all main aspects of life from bureaucracy, through free time activities, healthcare, sport, design, pastries, education, all the way to sexism and feminism. In her narrative she mixes anecdotes of her own mishaps, conversations with the ‘experts’ she talked to and some statistics she found. She also asks every person she talks to how happy are they on a scale to 10.
It was a light and cheerful read, I cannot say it changed my life or made me want to move to Denmark immediately, but I enjoyed it. It’s true that it was silly at times and oversimplified things, but it also brought the focus back to basics, how important the trust and safety is to our happiness, feeling part of a bigger community, but also being tolerant of others.
There were also some parts hat freaked me out, there is a lot of rules to be followed in Denmark, the explanation of why it’s not a good idea to hang a Swiss flag outside your house was hilarious. From the book it seems in Denmark everything is organized or is a tradition, which I think plays to feeling safe, but on the other hand, what happened to spontaneity?!
I found the financial aspect interesting; apparently Danes don’t mind paying extremely high taxes, because they know the state will take care of them when they need it. They know their taxes pay for ‘free’ education, healthcare, even for their unemployment insurance (90% of your last salary for 2 years). I think it all goes back to trust, they trust their money is being well spend, not to mention the fact that they can actually see it being well spend. There seems to be a lot more faith in the state than in non-Scandinavian countries. Another thing is that the income gap is a lot smaller than in the UK for example, social mobility is easier, because of the free education and because society is much more open to it.
Reading this book I thought Denmark has found some sort of balance, that makes people happy, but it’s not necessarily the only way… and who knows it may just be down to incredibly good pastries to keep people happy.
I tried to answer the ‘happiness question’ and I ranked myself 8 out of 10, there really aren’t many things that I wish for when I think of it (some more books and bookshelves maybe).
How would you rank yourself on a happiness scale? What in your country makes you happy?