(Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country – Helen Russell : non-fiction
The sub-title says it all. Brit journalist, Helen Russell accompanies her husband who moves to Denmark to work at Lego, legendary toy maker, on a year’s contract.
She leaves the buzzy London life somewhat reluctantly, but decides to treat their year’s exile as a research project.
And she researches Denmark thoroughly, covering work, play, family life, the social support system . You name it, she phones up experts, talks to neighbours and friends, drives around, checks facts, and experiences as much as she can in an effort to determine whether the statistically nominated Danes really are citizens of the world’s happiest country. She asks the question wherever she goes: on a scale of ten at the top and one at bottom, where would you rate your happiness? Most Danes answered with a nine. I think one boldly declared a ten, and the lowest score was an eight.
Imagine that! How can this be? Simple, really. Denmark offers a cradle-to-the-grave social system and promotes social values of equality regarding status, money and work. There is a high value placed on nurturing family life and achieving a good balance between work and home. Reading about the secure, affluent life in Denmark from my precarious Third World African perspective, Denmark sounds like heaven.
But everything has a price. The taxes are staggering. They have to be, to keep the system running. For nine months of the year its winter in varying degrees of Arctic freeze, not to mention almost total darkness in the depth of winter. As opposed to almost 24/7 daylight at the height of summer.
But the Danes take winter in their stride, creating hygge in their homes. It appears they also drink a lot of alcohol. So it’s warm and cosy all the way. They love tradition and mark annual festivals and holidays with group activities, and in between all the fests they are keen joiners of clubs and societies, weather notwithstanding.
I was fascinated with the description of the small Nordic country and its people. I live in a city of four million people; the total population of Denmark is just of 5.5 million. Because it’s a small country with a small population that adheres staunchly to their Danish values, there’s a high level of trust, and kids have plenty of freedom to enjoy the outdoors with little supervision.
When the writer has her baby, she and husband finally go out to dinner, it’s their first date since Little Red’s arrival, and they park the sleeping baby in his pram on the pavement outside the restaurant , which is perfectly standard Danish practice. When I read this, my jaw dropped, and my brain boggled. Do that in South Africa and within two minutes, literally, your baby will be stolen, ditto pram, and a terrible fate probably ensues.
If I were thirty years younger, I’d seriously consider emigrating to Denmark, based on Russell’s book. Read it for yourself and see if the Nordic lifestyle appeals to you.