We watched this video in my very first class on the Danish Welfare State, looking more closely at the commonly held perception that Denmark is the happiest countries in the world. This video was extremely striking for me, especially the comments made by Sociologist Emilia Van Hauen. After watching this video I could not stop thinking about what she said. As I wrote about a few blog posts back, I think that as an American I view the world in a very unique way. I know that people are critical of the U.S. all around the world, but I also know that American culture and life in America is commonly admired. This video highlighted to me a fundamental difference that separates Americans and people living in America from countries around the world, which is the desire for more.
Upon first writing that, I’m sure many people will be critical. What’s good about having a desire for more? As Dr. Van Hauen said in the video, “we don’t need to be orgasmic happy, it’s more like – we’re satisfied.” Danish people are happy with the lives they live because they are happy with the simplicity of their lives, and have learned to “lower their expectations.” They enjoy waking up in the morning and knowing that their children can go to school, that they can go to work, that if they’re sick they can go to their local doctor. The risk and fear that overwhelms American society just isn’t present here in Denmark. However, what this video highlighted for me the most is that something else is missing here in everyday life – passion.
Yes, it may be more rational to live your life knowing that you will always be alright. It may be wiser to have an idea about how your life will play out, and be settled with the idea of your path. In Denmark you will go to school, then university, then obtain an advanced degree. Maybe after university you will enter a trade or a craft, or maybe you will start a family. You will always be paid enough to live on, you will never fear sickness or injury as an economic threat. You trust your government, trust your community, and don’t feel the need to act out.
This sounds nice, don’t get me wrong. I love living in Copenhagen and meeting people who share these ideas, who live these comfortable lives. But there’s two things I need to point out that are missing from this utopian society – diversity and desires.
Diversity: While in Copenhagen I have noticed that everyone here looks the same. As a relatively homogeneous society, it is much easier for Denmark to institute social policies. Immigration policies have historically caused issues for the Danish government, and the welfare state was even based on the idea of culturally similarity of citizens. The population is largely regarded as homogeneous, something that people don’t say in conversations about how happy the Danes are.
Desires: The American Dream is one of the oldest ideas of our country. People come to America in search of a better life, better jobs, more opportunity. People come to America who want MORE. Denmark people don’t want anything more, they’re okay with their lives because everything is good. Although it’s common for people to resent this lifestyle, and everyone talks about how Danes are the happiest people, I wouldn’t want to live a life like this.
It is human nature to want more, and I want to live in a place where people dream. And yes, I am in love with Copenhagen and daydream about the unique Scandinavian lifestyle. A minimum of 5 times a day I wish I was Danish, as I’m sure most students on exchange do for whatever culture they’re trying to immerse themselves in. However, I do not wish to live a life that’s devoid of dreaming. I would much rather be sad because I tried to achieve a lofty goal and failed than be sad for never trying. What kind of life is it to live if you accept everything as it comes to you?