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


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.


Rainy Day Go Away

They’re saying it’s supposed to rain off and on for the next four days, straight through Christmas. Oh my! It started raining late last night after a pretty cloudy day and has gone through most of today so far. But, that’s what it does in North Carolina come this time of year. Most of the winter we live in rain and ice. Not too much snow. At least where I live. The Blue Ridge Mountains are another story.

Having grown up in white and cold winters in the North, I miss the snow. When winter comes and the weatherman says there’s going to be a potential for snow, I’m one of the ones who’s praying for it. I love the snow! I love walking in it, driving in it (I know that’s weird), sleighing in it, and especially drinking coffee in it. I love the crispness of the air and the steam that blows from my mouth, and how everything seems to get quiet from the insulation of it, like a recording studio–everything gets absorbed. You smell fire from the hearths of houses carrying in the air. And most of all, when it snows really good, you get to sit home with your family and watch movies all day in your pajamas.

Some of my fondest memories come from when I was a kid in the North and school would get cancelled and my mom would stay home with us and my aunt would bring my cousin over. We would all hang out and watch movies and sleigh and build igloos (the sleighing and igloo part is more me and my cousin). My cousin and I would have snowballs fights with the kids in the neighborhood, each team gathering as many kids as they could from nearby houses then divvying everybody up and going at it. We would build huge forts to protect us. Snowballs flying overhead and exploding on our heads. It was awesome!

However, in North Carolina this is not the way it goes. It snows here about 3-5 times a year, and when I say snow, I mean 3 inches. But it still shuts the whole city down. Crazy huh? The worst is when it ices. One night when I was living in Raleigh an ice storm froze the city like an icicle. I mean everything was petrified frozen. Trees, grass, cars, roads, windows, power lines, heating and A/C units. The scariest part was the power lines. The ice would bring them down or split them from the weight. I remember hearing the ice crack at night during that storm. Everything laid frozen for days, and at night, I laid listening to it crack and pop and fall. Sometimes the pop was so loud you would have thought someone shot a gun.

I sure hope this winter is not like that one. No ice please! Just snow, lots and lots of snow.

A Day of Learning

Today has undoubtedly been a day of learning for me. I can honestly say I didn’t realize the power of the internet and social networking sites, but today that all changed.

For a long time, I thought many of these sites were just trends that would fade in and out, and many have, but it seems the trend of social networking online is alive and well as a whole.

Sometimes it takes a kick or a fire under us to make a change. Well, my kick came last night during a very valuable discussion with someone. And today, I joined the social networking phenomena.

I must say now, that I have officially surrendered to the age of technology and internet, and the invaluable tools and opportunities they offer.

So if any of you who read this are skeptical like I was, stop hesitating now and take the plunge. An ocean of opportunity awaits you!