Malene Rydahl became fascinated with the issue and went on to read whatever she could find on the subject, to uncover indeed the ingredients to the Danish recipe. As she tells me, she couldn't find any article, book or writing that was accessible to everyone, and not written in a very academic fashion. She then decided to write a book about it, in a simple, accessible way, first in French (Heureux comme un danois), and out now in English: Happy as a Dane: 10 Secrets of the Happiest People in the World.
In our conversation Malene shares with us the three pillars of what makes Denmark stand out not only on the World Happiness Report list, but also in the OECD Better Life Index and other rankings of countries.
Denmark has the highest level of trust in the world, and that level is quite unseen anywhere. Globally looking at the world, in fact there is very little trust. Having such a high level of trust means that life and in general things are less complicated, and this is the filter through which you see the world. And trust is even measured higher when you look at the relationship with institutions and government, Danes believe in the system and the welfare state, and consequently also have the lowest level of corruption in the world.
This is relevant to corporations - when you have low levels of corruption in the political sphere, this sets the standard also for businesses and the population following these examples.
It’s basically about saying what you do, and doing what you say. It’s simple and seems to be also quite difficult. People know where they are at. The good news is, trust can be cultivated and exerciced like a muscle: you can also decide to be more trusting, to be more trustworthy, and create, what Malene calls a cercle of trust, irresective of where you live. This will enhance wellbeing and reinforce that basis, on which a happy and balanced life is built.
Freedom to be you
How free are we really to chose our lives? We may not even be conscious of what our parents, the system, education and the norm that surround us have had as impact on our choice of life, education and career. In Denmark, the main purpose of the education system is to develop the personality of the child and value all skills and talents equally. Manual, artistic and intellectual talents - all fostered and valued in equal measure.
Think of white collar - blue collar jobs, even the bias and label we give with these words… If we only glorify intellectual careers and work, we end up setting up a lot of young people for failure and frustration.
75% of young Danes leave their homes at 18. Denmark pays the students to study, and you get it independently from the income of your parents. Social mobility is very high and you can chose what you want to become.
Taxation and the Welfare state
Even if they pay a lot of taxes, people feel they are part of the system and not victims of the system. By contributing they also feel they are personally responsible for it to work, that everyone has their share to contribute. The Danish Welfare system is a project with purpose and meaning.
Malene among others also talks about Work-Life balance and equality, equal sharing of caring and earning role and how it plays out in Danish society and companies.
Of course we couldn't not mention the Danish phenomenon of Hygge. In Malene's definition it refers to taking the time to connect with yourself and other people. Focusing and connecting on the things that you have in common, slowing down, putting the fast world on hold, being in the present moment and appreciating.
... and after all this, what is Happiness anyways?
Leaving our more philosophical musings till the end of the podcast, we circle back to the question, what is Happiness? And how can one be happy? Malene clarifies, that striving for happiness is very different from striving for wellbeing and joy. This state of wellbeing refers to the Harmony between what you are, what you think, what you say and your actions.
The idea with all of these elements is to build a solid base for wellbeing. Capacity to live good moments and joy - you can work on it. Noticing and appreciate the little things in life is very important and meaningful.
I insist that we also discuss about the freedom to define what happiness and success is for us? This is a very important piece of our work, as we believe we need to finish with our cookie cutter approach of our definition of success, and close the gap between what we think and how the world defines it for us.
One final advice from Malene:
Every CEO needs to be able to answer the question: What are we contributing to the world as a company?