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.