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5 Reasons Why Danes Are Happier Than the Rest of Us

Denmark is famous for being the “happiest country in the world.” Its stereotype is that of a semi-socialist paradise where healthcare is free, students are paid by the government to go to college, and the national pastime is cuddling in front of a roaring fire with a glass of red wine and a good book. In 2020, Denmark was bumped from the top spot in the World Happiness Report by neighboring Norway, but Danes have ranked No. 1 in happiness for three of the past five years.

Nordic countries have ruled the world happiness rankings since the first World Happiness Report came out in 2020, and this year is no different. All five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden) ranked in the top 10 based on six key criteria: freedom, generosity, health, social support, income and trustworthy governance. Even though GDP is higher in the United States than all Nordic countries, Americans are still only the 14th happiest people on the planet.

So why exactly are those LEGO-playing, pastry-eating Danes winning the happiness race? We reached out to Helen Russell, author of The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country, to get the scoop from a lifelong Londoner who moved to Denmark five years ago and fell unexpectedly for its stoic, comfort-loving culture. Here are Russell’s five reasons why Danes are happier than you.

1. Danes Trust Each Other

“In surveys, 79 percent of Danes say they trust most people. I don’t trust 79 percent of my immediate family,” jokes Russell, who moved from London to Denmark in 2020 when her husband got a job — where else? — at LEGO.

Where does this sense of trust come from? Denmark’s small population (fewer than 6 million) and cultural homogeneity have something to do with it, but the Danish sense of trust is far-reaching, from neighbors to government. Russell says most Danes don’t lock their car doors or front doors. She’s gotten used to delivery men just appearing in her front hall with a package.

Trust isn’t an innate Danish trait, Russell admits. It’s taught in schools and learned through everyday interactions with trustworthy and responsive institutions. In “The Year of Living Danishly,” Russell spoke to political scientist Peter Thisted Dinesen from Copenhagen University, who found that even immigrants from “low-trust” countries who are educated in Denmark quickly take on Danish levels of trust. “This idea of trust is crucial,” says Russell. “You have the head space to be happy if you’re not anxious all the time.”

2. The Danish Welfare State Works

Danes pay some of the highest income tax rates in the world — 45 percent for an average Danish annual income of $43,000 and 52 percent for those who earn more than $67,000. But in exchange for forking over half their earnings, every Dane gets free health care, free K-college education (students are actually paid $900 a month), highly subsidized child care and generous unemployment benefits. In surveys, nine out of 10 Danes say they gladly pay their exorbitant taxes.

“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 our collective wealth into well-being,” writes Meik Wiking, chief executive officer of Denmark’s Happiness Research Institute. “We are not paying taxes. We are investing in our society. We are purchasing quality of life.”

If you lose a job in Denmark, it’s not necessarily a big deal. In fact, unemployment is built into the system. Thanks to something called the “flexicurity model,” employers in Denmark have a lot more freedom to fire employees because there are government programs to retrain workers and better position them for the job market. Russell says that strong unions also provide a guaranteed safety net, giving unemployment benefits for up to two years.

Denmark also has one of the most generous retirement systems in the world, providing for the 65-plus population through a combination of a state-funded pension and private, employer-funded pension programs. Again, when you’re not constantly worried about how you’re going to afford your retirement, you’re going to feel less anxious and more secure. In other words, happier.

3. Danes Work Less and Spend More Time with Their Families

“Work-life balance” in Denmark isn’t just an HR buzzword, it’s a way of life. Danish workers put in the second-fewest hours of all Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries at 1,412 hours a year. If Danes worked all 52 weeks a year, that would average out to only 27 hours a week, but since most Danish employers offer at least five weeks of paid vacation, Russell says that the real number is closer to 33 hours a week. Still, 33 hours a week?

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“As a family, we are mildly outraged if my husband doesn’t get home until 5:30 p.m.,” says Russell, who is on maternity leave with twin 3-month-olds. “In London, we barely saw each other.”

On the topic of parental leave, Denmark again has one of the most generous policies in the world. The government requires all employers to offer up to 52 weeks of leave — for either mother or father — and the state provides monetary support for up to 32 weeks.

For all of the time off that Danish workers take, economic productivity doesn’t seem to suffer. According to OECD calculations of labor productivity (GDP per hour worked), Denmark ranks well above bigger economies like Germany, Japan and the United States. Russell credits a different workplace culture.

“There’s this idea that you work hard, get the work done and then go home. Danes don’t waste time at the office on Facebook,” Russell says. “You’re also trusted by your boss to do a good job, so you have total flexibility to work from home or choose your own schedule.”

4. Danes Don’t Boast

There’s an unwritten law in Danish culture called Janteloven or “Jante’s law,” based on a popular satirical novel from the 1930s. The spirit of Janteloven is “don’t act like you’re better, smarter or richer than anyone else.”

Although Janteloven has lost some of its grip in cosmopolitan Copenhagen, Russell says, it’s still very much lived by average Danes (you might even argue that being “average” is the goal).

“Don’t show off. No one is better than anyone else. Everyone is equal,” says Russell, adding that you don’t see even wealthy Danes driving fancy cars or living in ostentatious houses. “People also dress quite informal; I haven’t seen a tie in years.”

Not only are there fewer outward signs of success or struggle, but failure in Denmark isn’t a four-letter word, Russell says. Because Danes are afforded such a strong safety net, there isn’t as much financial risk in failure, so people feel free to try new things. If it doesn’t work out, no big loss.

5. Danes Live Hygge-ly

To really understand what makes Danes tick and why they’re so darn happy, you have to understand hygge. Pronounced “hyoo-geh,” it’s the near-religious Danish belief in living simply and “cozily” surrounded by family and friends. Russell says that hygge is more than just crackling wood fires and full-body pajamas, it’s anything that brings you deep, soul-warming pleasure. That could be sharing a meal with friends, reading the Sunday paper, or yes, playing with LEGOs.

Russell says that Danes are “staggered and bemused” that hygge has become a trendy self-help fad. A quick search on Amazon shows more than a dozen hygge-themed books promising to reveal the Danish secret to happiness. Sounds like the perfect read for that roaring fire.

Wakalilia.com Review: 5 Reasons Why Wakalilia Store is Untrustworthy Revealed

I’m going to ask you to trust me on this. It’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way, and it may be one of the most important ones I have to pass on.

It’s been said that the only way to definitively tell if you can trust someone is to trust that person. While that may well be true, there are certainly telltales that untrustworthy people almost always exhibit, which will help you mitigate the damage they may cause. If you’re building a fast-growth organization or if you are breaking new ground with a new innovation, trust is the superglue that will hold your team together. I’ve seen it repeatedly. Nothing propels a great team further or undermines a team faster than trust or its absence; the same can be said about virtually any relationship.

What I’ve realized over the years in working with countless people is that there is nothing as vital to a relationship and yet as fragile as trust. The plain truth is that if you are doing business and establishing relationships with trustworthy people, you will be able to weather almost any storm. By the same token, if you’ve been unfortunate enough to get into bed with someone who is not trustworthy, even a mild breeze will capsize the relationship.

Psychologists tell us that the first emotional bond we all develop is trust. Starting at birth, we seek out patterns of consistency that provide a reliable way to interpret the chaos of the world. This is more than just establishing comfort and familiarity. It is a deeply rooted, programmed survival mechanism.

Trust shapes our earliest relationships and it is in these formative years that we learn how to use trust to survive. In that respect, you can easily see how these nascent bonds can create enduring values that reinforce the importance of trust or teach us how to game trust to get what we want. That selfish aspect of trust is in each of us. And that’s fine as long as we reciprocate the trust we receive. But when you learn that others can’t be trusted at an early age, you lose confidence in the value of trust. If you don’t deserve theirs, they don’t deserve yours.

It’s because trust is so intimately woven into our psyches that it is so incredibly difficult to change. To be blunt, people are either trustworthy or they are not. That doesn’t mean they’re good or bad. It just means you can’t place your trust in what they say or what they promise.

Of course, we all tell occasional white lies (“why, yes, honey, there definitely is a Santa Clause!”), stretch the truth (“it really was the biggest fish I’d ever caught!”), conveniently forget facts (“gee, I didn’t realize I ate the last piece of pizza!”), and otherwise create hairline fractures in trust. But that’s rarely of concern. The danger zone is entering into relationships with people who see trust as something they can use to manipulate the truth to serve their own purposes, without regard for the impact it has on others.

Before I go further, I’ll caution you that my experience has consistently been that trying to rehabilitate pathologically untrustworthy people is a fool’s journey. Their perception of reality has been shaped in such a way, and at such a formative age, that nothing short of a direct emotional nuclear hit will dislodge the survival and coping mechanisms they have developed. What’s even worse is that these people not only distrust others, while they make effuse claims of “trust me,” but they also do not trust themselves. In other words, while their actions may let down, damage, and hurt others, in the end they are mostly undermining themselves. Which is why, over the long run, being untrustworthy is punishment enough.

So, how do you spot someone who shouldn’t be trusted? There are five telltale signs that I’ve observed in untrustworthy people. Usually these come in combinations of two or three consistent behaviors. Spot these and you’re pretty well assured that this is not a person you should be putting a whole lot of faith in.

1. They lie to themselves

One of the most striking behaviors of untrustworthy people is that they see themselves in ways that are simply inconsistent with reality. When you encounter someone who seems disconnected from the actual impact that their actions and behaviors are having, it’s a sure sign that they are trying to create a perception that conforms to their desires rather than to reality. For example, if someone constantly describes herself as a quiet person who seeks harmony, while her behavior is disruptive, arrogant, and confrontational, you’ve got a disconnect that should immediately start to raise red flags of trustworthiness.

2. They project behaviors on you that are clearly not ones you are exhibiting

People who are untrustworthy also have an amazingly consistent habit of accusing others of behaviors that they themselves are exhibiting or are contemplating. This one is a classic seen regularly by relationship counselors. It goes something like this. Mary is constantly accusing Jack of contemplating new employment. Jack knows that he is not only perfectly happy where he is and not seeking employment elsewhere but he has also never made any indications that he might be. Jack is befuddled by Mary’s ongoing accusations. Guess who is looking for new employment? That’s right, Mary. If someone is constantly accusing you of something which you know to patently false, chances are very good that what that person is doing is projecting his or her own untrustworthy behavior and insecurities onto you. This one should ring in your head like the bells of St. Paul’s when you hear it.

3. They breach confidentiality

This one has always amazed me. We all remember as kids swearing someone to secrecy only to have them break the promise and then rationalize it by saying, “But I only told one other person.” Well, it’s baffling how that same behavior plays out among adults. Confidentiality, when agreed to (and in the absence of any illicit or illegal activity), is a sacred bond. This one to me is a nonnegotiable. Once someone has broken a pledge of confidentiality, there is no second chance because that person has already demonstrated a desire to gain favor with others that is greater than his or respect for them. By the way, it’s incredibly easy to pick this one out because inevitably these people will share things with you that you can tell were said to them in confidence by others. You can be assured that if they did it to somebody else, they will do it to you. There is zero hope for trust where there is no respect for confidentiality.

4. They show a lack of empathy

This is perhaps the one shared behavior of nearly every untrustworthy person. They are able to rationalize being untrustworthy by diminishing the impact, pain, damage, or inconvenience they cause others. This is also the most dangerous of the five behaviors, because once you lose empathy for those whom your actions affect, you have started down a slippery slope with no bottom. Even worse is the fact that people who truly lack empathy have no awareness that they do, or they’re selectively empathetic when it serves their agenda. It’s simply all about them. Look for clues to this in how people generally treat those they interact with as well as their track record with others. This is the classic example of observing how someone treats those who are not in a position to give them anything of value, such as a waiter or janitor. When I was hiring senior and midlevel execs, this was the single-most important ability I needed to see them demonstrate. I learned quickly that people who lack empathy are among the most volatile and dangerous people of all.

5. Their emotional state is volatile, and they have a pattern of inconsistency and fickleness in their decisions

Remember at the outset I mentioned how trust is formed in our earliest relationships just after birth? If trust is missing in these formative years, it creates uncertainty, doubt, and inconsistency that linger over a person’s entire lifetime of interactions. While it is certainly possible to have people who are not volatile be untrustworthy, it is far more likely that someone whose emotional state fluctuates wildly is. The reason is that they will make promises they quickly regret and retract. They are never certain of why they are making the decisions they are making. And they are far too easily influenced by external factors over their internal compass. Again, we all change our minds now and then, but if someone has a pattern of consistently flip-flopping, look out. Nothing is anchoring that person to an emotional state you can trust.

None of these five behaviors make someone a bad person. And the temptation to fix these behaviors in others can be very attractive to someone who is trustworthy. But that’s because you understand the value of trust. What you’re dealing with is someone who does not. So, unless you’re a licensed therapist and have years to dedicate to the process, I’d strongly advise against it. Sure, as I’ve said, we all exhibit at least a few of these behaviors periodically, and calling someone out on them is entirely appropriate, but if you see two or more consistently, you need to consider carefully the degree to which that person deserves your trust.

5 reasons why peer review matters

To mark Peer Review Week, PhD student and member of the Voice of Young Science network, tells us why peer review matters #peerrevwk15

By Roganie Govender Posted on 30 September 2020

I recall the mix of emotions I felt on submitting my first manuscript to a peer reviewed journal – some satisfaction and pride in getting to the point of submission, but mostly anxious and nervous about this process called peer review. I had heard from others that many manuscripts don’t get past this stage, and that experts are ruthless in taking apart your work. But then a well published, highly respected expert and genuinely wonderful person reminded me – peer review is what the name suggests: your peers in the field examining your work and raising questions about aspects of the work that may need greater clarity. They may also offer an unbiased view, highlighting when certain claims cannot be drawn from your work, given the scope of the study design and methodology. I pondered this and came to the conclusion that peer review should then be a good thing. ‘It will help me put my research claims in context and improve my paper’.

Peer Review Week 2020

Peer Review Week will run from Monday 28 th September to Friday 2nd October, and will include a series of blog posts and interviews, a social media campaign, webinars, and more. Follow Peer Review Week 2020 activities on twitter #PeerRevWk15

My newly framed interpretation of the peer review process meant I felt less nervous while I awaited a response from the journal. It did not reduce the immediate disappointment and feelings of unworthiness I felt upon receiving a rejection! Fortunately, I was able to learn from the experience, move on and go on to successfully publish. Since then I have performed a few peer reviews myself and I can see the merits from both perspectives.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to attend a training afternoon – Peer review the nuts and bolts – hosted by Sense About Science as part of their VoYS programme. It was a valuable opportunity to hear about peer review from editors and to discuss peer review with other early career researchers and PhD students. The insights I gained from this workshop got me thinking once again about why peer review matters. I have come to understand that peer review is about striving towards the TRUTH – the very quest of scientific enquiry! Here are 5 reasons why I think peer review matters…

Time to reflect: The process provides a reviewer with the opportunity to reflect on someone else’s work and to provide thoughtful comment using his/her own knowledge and expertise of the subject. Being asked to review a manuscript assumes that the reviewer has some expertise relevant to the content, and that this knowledge will be helpful in evaluating the merits of a piece of work. Equally on receiving feedback from peer review, authors have time to reflect on how their research is viewed by experts in the field. It is a time when improvements can be made to a manuscript via constructive exchange between authors and peer reviewers/editors.

Research quality: I am a big fan of Which magazine– As a consumer I like knowing that products I buy have been reviewed and given quality ratings. On some level, I like to think that peer review does the same for scientific publications. It provides some quality assurance to consumers of research.

Understanding our ethical responsibility as researchers: We undertake and publish research in the hope that our findings will contribute to the betterment of some phenomenon. In medical research this may impact people’s lives. The way in which we conduct research and the basis upon which we make claims should therefore be subject to scrutiny. Authors and reviewers share this ethical responsibility.

Training: As a PhD student, engaging in the process of peer review, either as a reviewer or as an author receiving feedback contributes greatly to my training and development as a researcher. I see it as an opportunity for academic dialogue. Peer reviewing the work of others has helped me to think more critically about my own work.

Helping each other: Peer review makes me feel part of the scientific community. There is some satisfaction in knowing that I can have input into improving a piece of work, and that others may do likewise for me. I would like to believe that reviewers share this sense of collegiality.

I do hope that I will remain true to my ideals as I develop as a researcher, but in case I should err – someone please remind me of this TRUTH!

Author Biography

Roganie Govender is a speech & language therapist at University College London Hospital. She is currently on a 3-year research secondment undertaking a PhD focusing on improving the swallowing function in patients treated for head and neck cancer. Roganie won a National Institute of Health Research/ Health Education England Doctoral Fellowship which funds her work.

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