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Lykke: Why Are the Danes So “Happy”?

skyline of copenhagen

For such a small country, Denmark has made a sizeable impact on the world. Beyond your favourite childhood toy, the nation has also received envious gazes for regularly featuring at or near the top of the World Happiness Index.

What does that mean, though? Does everyone walk around with huge grins from cheek to cheek?

Well, no. In fact, step foot in Central Copenhagen during the winter, and you’ll see more cases of resting bitch face than you can keep track of.

Wait, so the charts are a big lie?

Again, no.

Denmark enjoys a quality of life that few countries – if any – can match. Hence why the Danes are more content than others.

So, let’s move onto the next question. Why is Denmark such an excellent place to live?
The answer: keep reading, and you’ll find out.

The “Have Enough” Bunch

In developed countries such as the US, South Korea and the UK, consumerism is ingrained in popular culture and work attitudes. Ditto when it comes to the endless pursuit of more. The latest Gucci belt, a bigger house, a brand-new Tesla – anything to boost your social status. Or, in the wise words of Meik Wiking, “impress people you don’t like”.

Obviously, consumerism also exists in Denmark. But in general, the Danes have done pretty well at mastering not having too much or too little. Poverty rates are low, while at the other end of the spectrum, very few people are significantly richer than the rest of the population. And if you go into most Danish houses, you’re unlikely to find lots of unnecessary clutter; every item purchased has a purpose.

The Importance of Community

One thing you’ll notice when visiting or moving to Denmark is *just* how much emphasis the Danes place on collectivism. And it goes way beyond the high tax rates.

According to the OECD Better Life Index, 95% of people in the country say that they could count on someone they knew during a challenging period. This is higher than the OECD average of 89% and means that Denmark ranks third out of 40 countries behind New Zealand and Iceland.


Another key factor in happiness is the emphasis on trust in Danish society. Corruption is low, and if a Dane says they’re going to do something, you can bet that they will. Beyond that, people in Denmark also tend to trust the government, companies, and other authorities.

Work Hard, But Work Hard from Rest

Denmark is famed for its work-life balance, and its standard 37-hour working week is one of the lowest in Europe.

Most importantly, people in Denmark tend to stick to those hours. As noted on, 2% of employees in the country work long hours; across OECD countries, this average is 11%. And fun isn’t only reserved for the weekends – full-time employees give 66% of their day to personal care and leisure, which is 3% higher than the OECD average.

Full-time employees in Denmark also get five weeks of paid holiday per year. For the first three weeks in July, you’ll find that many Danish cities are ghost towns and that a lot of businesses close.

When moving to Denmark, you’ll also notice that the country has a lot more public holidays than in other parts of the world. And these public holidays mean that almost all shops close.

But don’t mistake lots of leisure time for laziness. When in the office, the Danes are hard-working and – for the most part – committed to doing their jobs. The difference is that both employees and employers know that longer hours do not necessarily equal greater output.

A Simple Lifestyle

Arguably the most significant reason that the Danes are so content is that life here comes without many complications. Everything works as it should; filling in taxes is easy if you’re self-employed, while public transport in the cities is excellent and you can access most services you need online.

Denmark is also a relatively predictable environment. Well, apart from when it comes to the weather. Crime rates are low, even in Copenhagen. Most people grow up with tight-knit friendship groups, the political situation is stable, and the chances of conflict breaking out on Danish soil are next to none.

a couple walking down one of the main streets in odense

In Denmark, you know what to expect. If you lose your job, you probably won’t starve. If you’re sick, you’ll probably get a decent level of care. And if you’re walking home at night, you probably won’t get robbed.


Denmark is not a utopia; no country is. But the standard of life here is much higher for the average person in most parts of the world.

While the gap between rich and poor is growing in many countries, the Danes have managed to achieve high levels of income equality. The emphasis here is also on living to work, rather than working to live, meaning that people feel less pressure to work 14-hour days to try and ‘get ahead’.

Denmark is also a safe and predictable environment, allowing parents to raise their children without worrying about finances or encountering other forms of danger.

All of these, along with the fact that Denmark is a trusting place with high levels of personal freedom, help make the Danes some of the world’s happiest people.

Published by Danny Maiorca

Danny is a freelance writer living in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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