During my Christmas vacation, I was fortunate to visit Denmark which we proudly claim Princess Mary as our own.
Except I was hideously surprised by my $10 AUD coffee.
I was forewarned by a few that Denmark is one of the most expensive countries in the world.
Yes, even more exxy than Perth circa mining boom and CUBs era.
A three-course dinner accompanied by one mid shelf cocktail each will easily set 3 people back $500AUD.
Not wanting to be coined as an “ignorant westerner”, I trawled the internet and watched a handful of YouTube videos to learn more about this small nation.
And I was impressed.
Denmark and her Scandinavian cousins are consistently ranked by the United Nations as amongst the world’s Top 10 happiest countries in the world.
This sparked my curiosity about this country, which is home to 5.60 million of the world’s happiest citizens.
When a country has 171 rainy days out of a possible 365 and mothers leave their babies outside restaurants and outside their homes, I knew that happiness was an inside job.
So, I was on a mission, chatting with strangers in cafes and trains, I needed to understand why.
And below are my top 6 reasons:
- Danish students are paid to go to University. Each student from the age of 18 (for up to 6 years) receive approx. 5900 Danish Krones ($1280 AUD) per month to study if they are enrolled to complete a Bachelor and Masters degree. The generous financial support doesn’t have to be paid back even if the student drops out. And this is not dependent on how much income your parents make or what assets they have. The only pre-requisite is that you are not living at home. Those who are particularly successful are eligible to receive additional payments (no tall poppy syndrome here). This is one of the greatest equalisers of income disparity, a genuine effort by the government to increase social mobility for their citizens.
- Their tertiary education is free. End of story.
- Young children are encouraged to explore their natural leanings, vocation and talents so they don’t get coerced by parents to choose careers based on income or status, but for happiness and the impact they can have on the world. The Danes believe in providing opportunities for its citizens to pursue their happiness from advanced starting positions irrespective of economic, social or cultural backgrounds.
That’s right, educators, health practitioners and labourers share the same respect for each other. And this is also because they have the lowest income disparities in the world.
- Denmark has one of the highest tax rates in Europe (and the world). The average annual income in Denmark is about 39,000 euros (nearly $63,000 AUD) and the average Dane pays a total amount of 45% in income taxes. If you make more than 61,500 euros ($99,000 AUD), expect to pay 55% in taxes! To put this into perspective, average Australians pay a net of 26% in income taxes.
This sounds absurd, but 90% of their citizens are happy about this because they believe in their system. The reason behind the high level of support for the welfare state in Denmark is the awareness of the fact that the welfare model turns their collective wealth into well-being.
Still don’t get it? Refer to 1 & 2.
- In Denmark, their homes are tiny, hotel rooms are even tinier but their hearts are enormous and that’s because they prefer to invest their money into quality of life. Flamboyant and consumption are dirty words in Denmark. Danes don’t think of money as a tool to “buy more things we don’t need”, they see through it with the perspective that they are purchasing quality of life.
- Home to LEGO. Need I say more? Yes, everything is awesome when you’re part of team, and clearly, everything is awesome when you’re a Dane.
What a lot of people don’t know is that this iconic company (still owned by the Kristiansen family) started in a relatively unknown village of Billund in Jutland, when the founder Ole Kirk Kristiansen fell on hard times building houses. He supplemented his trade making wooden toys in the 1930s and was so successful that he was soon only making his wooden building blocks. LEGO is a mix of the Danish words To play and Good.
In recent years, happiness, well-being and quality of life have made a powerful imprint on my life. More money doesn’t mean more happiness and economic progress is no longer a satisfactory indicator for the progress of your life.
I see countries and people that have achieved tremendous growth in the past decades, but failing to convert wealth into well-being for their citizens or families.
Australia is a lucky country, and I just hope we don’t let the wrong values shape our policies where we put more emphasis on quantity of life vs quality of life.
P.S I’ve had this article verified by Danes 😊