Skip to main content

Uncovering Denmark's Reasons for Happiness from 'The Year of Living Danishly'


Who knew I'd learn about the Danes while vacationing in Zanzibar! I chanced upon the book 'The Year of Living Danishly' while scanning through the bookshelf at the resort during my African vacation. I traded my unread Paulo Coehlo 'The Winner Stands Alone' (no regrets there) for this book with its attractive blue color. Cover aside, I was curious to know what makes Denmark the world's happiest country. Scandinavian countries have always harbored my wanderlust-heavy fancy and this book held insights into what made one of these countries known for its happiness levels and living standards. 

What's the deal with this book anyway? 
'The Year of Living Danishly' is written by Helen Russell who used to write for Marie Clare UK, a job that was adding to the conundrum of her rat-race infused meaningless London life. A job offer from Lego for her husband signaled a move to Billund in Denmark, spiraling Helen into a Danish expedition, an exciting yet nerve-wracking journey of uncovering secrets of what makes the Danes happy, all as she too learns how she can seek happiness living her Danish life. Her laborious research and numerous interactions with Danish experts gives you, the reader, unparalleled access to living life The Danish Way.  

So what's makes the people of Denmark happy? 
A lot. Let me begin with hygge. If you haven't heard of it before, you've been living under a rock; it's a trend that has captured the world by a storm. It's a word that encapsulates the Danish way of seeking happiness by creating an ambiance of coziness; so lighting a candle, hugging a mug, curling up in a woolly blanket and reading a book while it's raining outside means you've achieved hygge. It's not an easy concept to explain, and I may have not gotten all of it right 100% so I'll let this VICE News video take you deeper into it. It'has inspired my next read 'The Little Book of Hygge' by by Meik Wiking. Helen shares that Danish people love rules and planning. This takes out the stress of many things and hence that makes them happy people. Danes also are a closely integrated community; many rarely marry out of their nationality, nor migrate elsewhere, thus making them think of their friends and neighbors as their very own people. The resulting trust created further creates a sense of satisfaction in the Danish life. The author was surprised to learn that Danish parents can leave their toddlers unattended outside the supermarket while they hop in to buy something they missed from their shopping list - such is the level of trust. Danish residents also pay very high taxes - up to 51.7% of their salaries (depending on pay bracket). But they see logic in it because the State takes care of them. Healthcare and education are free. For instance, it is not strange for people to pursue their love for learning even up till their late 20s before they begin work; and they have the flexibility to look for a job they truly enjoy - all because they have the safety net of social welfare that will see them through. They work six hours a day, value time spent with their friends and family and can snuggle with some of the world's tastiest snegels all upping serotonin levels. But all external factors aside, Helen's research reveals studies that show that - wait for it - the serotonin gene is higher among Danish and Swedes (oh, the injustice). Perhaps this is what makes them so acceptable about a four months long, dark and brutal winter with depressing levels of darkness. 

What, Denmark is not Utopian just yet? 
Most people Helen interacted with in her quest to identify Danes' sources of happiness, said they were at about an 8 or 9 on 10 in their scale of happiness. They acknowledge how privileged they are to be born Danish, living the way they do, and with all humility, admit that their problems are of the first world kind. Yet all is not Utopian in Denmark. A sense that healthcare is provided for makes Danes a tad careless with their health as they drink like a fish and puff tobacco like a chimney. There's a lot left to be desired when it comes to gender equality. Most Danes, male and female both, would have been in a physical fight by the time they would have graduated from school. Divorce rates are also sky high in Denmark because separation is fairly simple and affordable legally. On an epicurean note, you may be surprised but until Noma hit the scene, Nordic cuisine pretty much was potatoes and pork, and most of the culinary scene outside of Copenhagen still continues to be of the starchy kind. But like our humorous author concludes, if there is anywhere in the world you have to be stressed, it would rather be in Denmark. 

And how can you and I live Danishly? 
Now as much as I would love to pack my bags, buy a happiness ticket and hop onto hygge airlines to Denmark, I cannot; at least I have not figured out a way yet. So in the meantime, how can I and you live Danishly? By applying Helen's top ten tips: 
1) Trust (more) - This will be tough for me but well...okay, let's lower the guard down just a teeny tiny bit. Baby steps right...
2) Get hygge  - This I think I excel in. While it may not qualify for hygge, for me making a cup of filter coffee, cuddling under my sheets and watching Big Little Lies makes the cut. 
3) Use your body - I am proud to say I have been successfully ditching my lazy instincts and making it on time for my evening Yoga classes on most days after work. Do you go jogging, dancing, anything? 
4) Address the aesthetics in that, invest in making your surroundings beautiful - you really should see my beautiful blue chest of drawers adorning my studio. Keep your space clean, positive and bright. 
5) Streamline your options, meaning, don't let too many choices bog you down. Keep it simple. Who knew I had a Danish vein in me for a long time now! I have always believed that less is more and that reflects in my space and my possessions. 
6) Be proud - Danes are a proud lot and they have reasons to be. What's my reason to be proud? My journey so far, the mistakes I learnt from, everything that has shaped my character and made me, ME. Find your reason to be proud. It could be a hobby or interest you're pursuing or the lasagna you're an ace at making. 
7) Value family - Well, well, well, I am more Danish than I thought... family first!
8) Equal respect for equal work - Let's promise to treat everyone with kindness regardless of the colour of their skin or passport.
9) Play - Remember it was a Danish father who invented Lego and they are the masters at 'play'. Let us learn to rediscover that child in us and get out and indulge in fun activities - baking, drawing, building a Legoland house, whatever!
10) Share - Sharing is caring, so Helen tells us we can live Danishly if we start sharing more. This could mean baking a cake for your colleagues or inviting friends over for a meal - let's all do our part in bringing more warmth to the table.   

This book was truly an insightful one to read and Helen's adventures are engaging to follow. If you want to hear more about her story, this is a good video to start with. 



Popular posts from this blog

INSIDE THE GO CHEESE FACTORY

Last weekend, I got a unique opportunity to visit Gowardhan Cheese Factory in Manchar district, a good two hour drive from Pune city. The owning home-grown company Parag Milk Foods brand portfolio includes Gowardhan and GO boasting of a range of dairy products that have been retailed across Mumbai and Pune over the last decade. I first started using their yoghurt when the local kirana store ran out of my usual preference of Amul, Danone and Britannia. One spoon of it and I instantly found it so fresh, light and 'unprocessed'.
I have always loved cheese but now I even prefer it over chocolate. So when I was scheduled to visit the GO factory, it bore semblance to winning the golden ticket and entering glistening gates to its factory much like the popular Roald Dahl's Charlie. Except that it was not all that dramatic! 

Shashi Tharoor's 'An Era of Darkness' Illustrates the Rapacity of the British Raj in India

It was August 15, 2016, I was having lunch with someone. Gazing at the news on the television screen behind me, she asked, "It's India's Independence Day today! Independence from whom?" Independence from the British, I answered, shocked. Shocked, because this someone in question was British and she had not a clue about the crimes of her country's colonial past.  Like millions of Indians and non-Indians, I was left aghast and despondent when I heard the viral Shashi Tharoor Oxford Union debate (if you haven't seen it yet, you've been living under a HUGE rock, and I suggest you watch it before you proceed to read the remainder of this blog). Tharoor in all his articulate and intellectual glory spoke in motion for Britain owing reparations to her former colonies. Tharoor's well-researched facts on the brutality of British rule in India for over two centuries left me astounded, and a sense of shame dawned on me - I knew so little about my country's p…

Restaurant Review: Soy at Le Royce, Pune

Many times I have been recommended a restaurant that is super popular in the city, but after dining there I tend to walk out feeling disappointed...it was good, but not that good. Pune has a few restaurants that are deemed a must-visit for outsiders. My theory is that these popular outlets were good at one time, but once they gained popularity and the footprint, somewhere along the way, the prices sky-rocketed and the food quality suffered. Nonetheless with some PR machinery backing them up, they do get their desired footfalls. 

Sometimes, the best restaurants turn out to be the ones very few have heard of. One such not-much-talked-about place is Soy. My sister discovered it two years ago when severe sushi cravings drove her on a city-wide hunt for a restaurant that serves decent ones. Sheltered on the ground floor of Le Royce Hotel, the chefs at Soy dish out some remarkable Chinese and Japanese food. 

Their menu has good range and better still, vegetarians will not be left upset I assu…