Happiness: Danes vs Americans– A Response to, “Report From the Flatlands of Statistics”


HappyWorld

Photo Courtesy: UN World Happiness Report 2013

Even though the Danes are ranked number one in Happiness, they still suffer the same woes as the rest of us, but with a couple more benefits, according to Mathilde Walter Clark.

As easy as it is to knit pick everyday life, every country has trains that run late, clouds that rain, and of course, not so flattering people. Personally, compared to America, I think the Danes have it pretty good.

But we always want more. We always want what we can’t have–as outplayed as it sounds, it’s true across all societies. Even when you have free education, teachers that get paid $60k/year, and universal healthcare like the Danes do, we can all still find something to complain about.

According to the U.N. “World Happiness Report of 2013” Denmark is the happiness country in the world–a great place to hang your hat, raise a family, go to school, seek medical attention, you name it.

However, in Mathilde Walter Clark’s English translation of “Report From the Flatlands of Statistics,” rather than cherishing her country’s elevated status, she actually takes a jab at it. She peels it apart like an orange to find its pulp.

Throughout her essay you can’t help but sense an undertone of irony running through it like a river– Clark never fully accepting her country’s coveted spot, never fully agreeing that the U.N.’s objective research is reality, though she claims to foil this idea of irony early in her essay. I’m uncertain it ever fully subsides.

After noting her split childhood, spending time between Denmark and America, due to her parents’ separation, she declares that “I am still a divided missionary. I find myself in a state of perpetual provocation: in America by inequality, and in Denmark by conformity. It is the compulsion toward uniformity that pains me most about the Danish spirit.”

Clark argues that sometimes the equality and need to be one community in Denmark actually inhibits the ability to feel unique, to feel special, and subsequently hints that this potential to be unique in America is what makes it so great.

But there is a downfall to this.

Without the community to support one another, each is left to his own woes and consequentially fights alone. Thus coming full circle with Clark’s concern about American inequality.

I argue that the comfort and happiness achieved through a sense of community and stability is far greater than the satisfaction achieved by Americans’ aptness to be unique.

Clark’s says, Danes are always “trying to even out things. It’s in their nature.”

But what’s wrong with that? (I can already hear the socialist comments). But really, would not evening things out create less starvation in the world, create better paying jobs, provide education to those who can’t afford it, medicine to those who need it most? And aren’t these all the reasons why the Danes are on top?

This world is ruthlessly off kilter. I think, “evening things out” a bit would be great.

Country Rankings by Happiness

Country Rankings by Happiness

The perpetual feeling of failure in America if you aren’t going above and beyond and doing more with your time and pushing harder is equally hard to deal with and unsatisfying, especially for those that still aren’t getting ahead. The stressful and hectic consequences that come with living in a society that is almost too ambitious, and quick to declare someone lazy if they aren’t spending their entire day, week, or life running around incessantly, can be deeply unrewarding.

A recent article by Libby Fordham entitled, “So You’re Not Up At 5am To Work? What’s Wrong With That? Nothing” describes the very same problem.

Since when was it expected to wake up before dawn and have answered all your emails, gone to the gym, and wrote two chapters in your next memoir?

The idea of being able to just live and feel alive via the societal norm of community and equality in Denmark sounds like bliss to me as an American. Not because I am lazy and unmotivated, but because I am tired of people running around like robots to their overcommitted responsibilities, trying to undercut each other to get ahead, to be the next big boss, and say “I did more than you!” There is strength in numbers, in unity.

But Clark claims that a classic poster well-known in Denmark of a police man helping a family of ducks cross the road is “a bit disjointed from how things really are…it shows us what we’ve really lost.”

She ultimately argues that an image is separate from its own truth, like a picture of two people smiling on a tropical vacation. You cannot know the truth behind the picture just by looking at it. There is much more under the surface. And thus she surmises that though the idea of Denmark being the happiest place on earth is flattering, it is only a picture, not a story, not a subjective point of view.

I agree with Clark. There’s always more under the surface. But nothing is ever going to be perfect, and here in America, I think we have a lot more work to do on that front than a country like Denmark. We have strayed far from the original intent of the forefathers of this country. Each day I become more convinced that America is just becoming a soulless, empathy-less humming machine with no ability to see outside its own fixed mechanical processes. It’s become merely a mad dash to snatch up as much money as we can, in the process of screwing over the next guy, and then hoping to retire at a decent age (if we make it) and not end up in a nursing home.

That’s it.

So I say, let’s be a little bit more like the Danes. Let’s help each other, let’s establish community, let’s be okay with just being, and stop for a moment.

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