Thursday, 9 November 2017

On why Denmark has one of the highest (material) happiness indexes among countries in the world

Last updated on 12th Nov. 2017

Given below is a slightly edited version of a mail exchange I had recently with a European origin mail correspondent:

I (Ravi) wrote:
You might want to have a look at the link below. It is a short article having views of Dan Buettner (National Geographic explorer and author of a book on happiness).

The secret to why Denmark is one of the happiest countries in the world, http://www.businessinsider.in/The-secret-to-why-Denmark-is-one-of-the-happiest-countries-in-the-world/articleshow/61563702.cms, 8th Nov. 2017.

As a guy who is into spirituality where love, joy and peace are very important aspects, I find that happiness indexes are rather superficial and focus on material measures. So I don't place too much value on them, from a spiritual perspective.

However, from a more material world, man on the street type view, I think these indexes do have their value.
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The European origin correspondent (EOC) wrote (and was OK with public sharing of it):
I think he misses the point almost completely (as most explanations of that fact do).

I see two reasons:

Danes consistently have scored the highest in trust: They don't go around worrying about treason and backstabbing; they can discuss important things with strangers without fear.
Denmark supports (through education, health, social safety net) people trying to do their best in a variety of fields: Statistically, Danes are actually  very accomplished. They like having lots of Nobel Prizes, Olympic medals, winning in soccer, handball, badminton, etc., having lots of famous scientists, many successful programming language designers, the greenest energy, Lego, producing enough food for 15 million people, having the largest merchant marine, one of the highest GDP/pp, etc.

Facts here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denmark

Denmark is usually ranked the least corrupt country and the one with the greatest personal freedoms. These are probably factors.

Many Danes would point to the excellent Danish food and drink.

The Danes generally use their wealth well for the people as a whole, rather than just for a few very rich people (though they also have those). It is one of the most equal societies on earth.

People often forget that Denmark is one of the most business-friendly countries in the world - without the country running at a profit, Denmark couldn't afford to run the country the way they do.

Obviously, such generalizations have many counterexamples. The fact that Danes are the happiest is  a statistical observation. Indexes are by their nature superficial, but they do indicate something real, especially as they show significant consistent differences to other countries decade after decade.

And of course: Denmark is one of the least religious countries in the world.

Obviously Denmark isn't perfect, and possibly the good things about Denmark are being eroded as the world is becoming more integrated so that countries are becoming more similar.
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Ravi responded:

Thanks for your valuable response.

I think it should be shared on the Internet.

About your point: "And of course: Denmark is one of the least religious countries in the world.", I would like to add the following info.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denmark#Religion, "Christianity is the dominant religion in Denmark. In January 2017, 75.9% of the population of Denmark were members of the Church of Denmark (Den Danske Folkekirke), the officially established church, which is Protestant in classification and Lutheran in orientation. This is down 1.0% compared to the year earlier and 1.9% down compared to two years earlier. Despite the high membership figures, only 3% of the population regularly attend Sunday services and only 19% of Danes consider religion to be an important part of their life."

Ravi: The 19% figure mentioned above seems to come from a global Gallup poll in 2009 whose data seems to have been used to prepare this list of countries on importance of religion, with least importance at the beginning by default (sort order of columns can be changed): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Importance_of_religion_by_country. Note that some countries are not listed (perhaps due to the poll not being conducted there).

Denmark is the third lowest in the list at 19%, with Estonia at 16% and Sweden at 17% being even lower than Denmark. China is not mentioned in the list but is mentioned in the description above the list with a measure of 18 to 19%, and so at around the same level of Denmark. But don't know whether the Chinese figure can be relied upon as it is not mentioned in the list.

North Korea is not mentioned but I think it would be the lowest in this list. Besides China and North Korea, three other currently communist countries are Cuba, Laos and Vietnam, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_state. And Nepal I think is categorized as a democratic country with communist party majority. That's it. These are the only communist or communist party majority countries in the world today!

In the previously mentioned wiki page giving number of people of a country for whom religion is important (based on a global Gallup poll in 2009):
Cuba has 34%
Laos has 97%,
Vietnam has 30%
Nepal has 93%.

So I think it is safe to say that Denmark would, most probably, be the 4th or 5th lowest importance of religion country in the world today in 2017 with North Korea having even lower number than Denmark (I believe that practice of religion is banned in North Korea).
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Ravi: I should also add that I have never visited Denmark. But I have made a marketing visit in the early 1990s to a town (whose name I have forgotten) in nearby Sweden which we drove to from Stockholm airport. It was a pleasant trip and the Swedes in the software company that I interacted with were decent guys. So my impression of Sweden from that short trip was a positive one.

An Indian software company (Datamatics, Mumbai) colleague of mine served a long stint (year plus, I think) in Copenhagen, Denmark, in the second half of the 1980s around the time I was serving a long stint in Brussels, Belgium. I think that person had a good time in Copenhagen, and so would have a positive view of Copenhagen and Denmark. Now I believe he is settled in the USA.
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On my Facebook post, https://www.facebook.com/ravi.s.iyer.7/posts/2011113132438587, associated with this post, Brynjar Stokke wrote (and was OK with sharing it here; slightly edited; smiley icons have been replaced by equivalent text strings):
As a Dane (living in northern Germany) I have to say: food and drink in Denmark is definitely NOT excellent... maybe their beer... OK (but it's a long time ago I drank beer :-D ). Other countries as France, Spain or Italy are known for good food, not Denmark ;-) And for a vegetarian Germany is waaaaay better :-).
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[I thank wikipedia and have presumed that they will not have any objections to me sharing the above extracts from their website on this post which is freely viewable by all, and does not have any financial profit motive whatsoever.]

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