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Happiness- that very elusive emotion

Why is Denmark so happy whilst India isn’t? Why is Singapore, which is a very successful, albeit small city-state, not so happy?

Most of us are under the misconception that a higher standard of living or more money can bring more happiness. While Denmark has a high standard of living, Danish citizens are not happy because they have more money. By the same token, Singapore, which has a higher per capita GDP compared to Denmark, should be happier, but it isn’t. Having said that, there indeed is a big difference between having no money and having all your basic needs met. Once a human being’s basic needs are met, more money stops making you happier. Likewise with material goods- getting the newest, latest gadget, designer dress, designer bag or some such thing might bring us fleeting momentary happiness, but the more we get used to having these things lying about, the less they contribute to our happiness unlike the things I mentioned earlier, which are more in the nature of experiences, and bring me happiness time and again.

Coming back to Denmark and Singapore (with similar incomes and similar levels of population), let us analyse why one is at the top of the table while the other is somewhere in the middle. I happen to live in Singapore, so can speak for it- it is a society that pursues relentless meritocracy- while economically successful, it is one of few places in the world that streams kids as young as 12 (the pressure kids face in primary school in Singapore can only be compared to the pressure kids face in India, with a never-ending cycle of school-work, tuitions and exams)- in this pursuit of meritocracy and ‘being the best I can be’, people have forgotten to be happy; in the quest of acquisition of the latest smart phone, they have forgotten that socialising with the people that you care about and thereby creating rich experiences is more important.

On the other hand, I believe Danes are content and focus on what they have and not on what they don’t have. It helps that Denmark has a welfare system and a strong social safety net. They may have one of the highest tax rates in the world, but all Danes are entitled to free education, free medical care and free elderly care and also have unemployment benefits. Denmark is also supposed to be one of the most equitable societies in the world. Practicing equity relieves the citizens of competing fiercely for the best school, the best job, the best opportunity, but instead lets them make choices that are dictated by passion. It is said that Danes are warm and friendly and do not hesitate to make eye contact, while I know for sure that Singaporeans are not so warm and friendly and definitely hesitate to make eye contact. Also, Danes are supposed to be very happy at work with people taking part in making the workplace ‘fun’- there are rare instances of this happening in Singapore.


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Renuka Vaidyanathan, an erstwhile finance professional, opted out of the corporate rat race and now likes to think that she wears many interesting hats. She is an events’ organiser in the cultural space and also writes every now and then about people, places and events. She is an avid advocate of 'green living' and dabbles in some sitar-playing as well, albeit as an amateur.

3 thoughts on “Happiness- that very elusive emotion

  1. Sukanya Badri

    From my various interactions with Danes, I believe they are less complicated and more simple and direct in nature. When dealing with them, expectations are clearly set, and all you have to do is meet them and you are on! No need to go beyond your brief all the time, no need to throw in a superlative performance – just the basic commitment will do on the average, but on time and well done for sure. I believe this approach to life makes them easily satisfied and therefore happy and content. Living in a society that is well-supported by the Government is a contributory factor – but we cannot forget the insanely high taxation rate and the cost of living that also accompany this degree of comfort. Besides, the living conditions there are tough e.g. the weather that is, at best, cool for a few weeks in a year and horridly chilly and cold for most parts. Danes like to enjoy life whenever the chance arises – take frequent vacations, enjoy family time (many have 3-4 children:-)); are fitness freaks – this is one country where a good chunk of the population ‘runs’. Its a lovely sight to see in Copenhagen scores of cyclists pedalling away to work..The country is small (population equivalent to maybe one large metro in India) but their business reach is far and quite successful and many top global companies are Danish (Lego toys for one) – amazing for such a small nation.

    Denmark maybe an example of developed country where the system is well-functioning and people’s expectations are different, but the example they set is worth admiring and maybe emulating in some parts!


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