I had the privilege of studying abroad in Denmark for a summer after my junior year of college. There’s about a million and one reasons why this was the best summer of my life, and most of the details can be found on my blog. But the real value behind my summer in Copenhagen was not truly realized until after the fact.
The Danes are undeniably beautiful. Every person you see on the street is just downright stunning. Aside from being painfully trendy and cool (without seeming forced or unnatural), they also seem to glow. It is because Danes are genuinely happy, and that happiness manifests itself in a quite physical way.
Why is Denmark consistently ranked one of the happiest countries in the world?
The physical “happiness glow” may not be scientifically proven, but it is a fact that Denmark ranks as one of the happiest countries in the world year after year. Danes are extremely satisfied with their lives—and although there are many factors that play into this, I argue that the most prevalent one is the Danes’ commitment to community, social well-being, and volunteerism.
Danes care about others, and they feel responsible for everyone’s happiness–not just their own.
To illustrate: WIthin minutes of arriving at my apartment in Copenhagen, I was flooded with guests. The building I lived in had community kitchens–about 10 bodies per space. I was on a tour of my kitchen, when a girl walked in and said “Oh, you must be new here! I’m actually packing up to study in France this summer. Would you like to use my bike while I am gone? Here, let me grab the key.”
I am pretty sure to this day, that girl does not know my name. But she was willing to lend her bike to a total stranger, because she knew it would be of value and make me happy. Why? Because Danes also know that biking makes you happy, and they want everyone to share that joy.
To illustrate again: I was wandering through the Israels Plads flea market one day, sampling my way through lunch. Think Costco style, but a million times better. I sampled an incredible chocolate orange almond, and immediately pivoted back to buy a bag. Or twelve. The kind, blonde Dane behind the counter informed me that the orange almonds only came in a sampler pack, and I’d have to buy the whole (and very expensive) box to taste this treat again. I dejectedly walked away, only to be tapped on the shoulder a few minutes later. The Dane had opened up multiple sample boxes and retrieved the orange almonds from each–forming my own personal bag of goodies. I was blown away, and insisted I would pay whatever she wanted. She politely shook her head, and handed me a note that said “Don’t tell my boss. Enjoy your summer in Copenhagen.”
Case in point: Danes care about others’ happiness, and in the process, they have found the key to their own happiness.
Studies have been done on this paradox in both the workplace and spending habits—but the results seem to ring true across many situations. Serving others and feeling a sense of responsibility for other’s happiness leads to greater positive feelings. Giving of yourself, your time, your money–whatever it may be–can have a great impact on your daily mood, and your long term well-being.
The next time you are looking for a mood boost, think about what someone else needs.
It’s definitely somewhat of a conundrum–but I saw this oxymoron ring true first-hand during my time in Copenhagen. I am not always the best at putting it into practice, but awareness of this simple trick is usually a good first step. The next time you are looking for a mood boost, think about what someone else needs. Surprise your co-worker with a cup of coffee. Leave a voicemail for your old college roommate. Go to Target and pick out a couple $1 items for your friends. Volunteer for your local bike share company (they always need volunteers!). If you are going to an event, see if there are volunteer opportunities to get your ticket for free!
It’s these little day-to-day acts of kindness for others that can lead to so much positivity in your own life. I don’t understand it all the time, but I know it to be true. And I’m grateful to all the people of Denmark for proving this to me time and time again–even years after my amazing summer abroad.