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Vikings, pastries and Carlsberg – living in the happiest nation on Earth

Denmark is a country traditionally known for its Vikings, its pastries, its bacon and its children’s fairytales. But in recent years there’s been a changing shift in the country’s reputation throughout the rest of Europe and the world. The Nordic Noire crime series have put the country on the map as a commanding force in entertainment, Noma and the new Nordic cuisine have demonstrated that there’s more to the country’s culinary outputs than its bacon and cheap blue cheese. And of course the UN survey in 2012 ranked Denmark as first on its list of happiest countries to live. It’s this rating which stuck me the most about the country, surely you’d think it would be a laid back country likely somewhere in the Caribbean where the beaches are long, sandy and breath-taking and where the sun is shining everyday. Being a psychologist and wondering what leads a country to such apparent happiness I decided to investigate in Copenhagen in probably the cheeriest month of them all; August and see what made the Danes so chirpy.

 

On the first day asking a few Copenhagners the question “what makes your country such a happy place” generally leads to the well-established joke that the survey missed out on the obvious sarcasm in their replies. With answers such as “oh yes of course we’re all SO HAPPY here, especially during our lovely and such bearable winters!” apparently being missed by UN. OK, not a great start to finding what makes them tick so abandoning the interview technique I decided to go head first into a traditional Copenhagen summer. After much research and attending of as many events as offered it’s safe to say that it’s almost impossible to be bored in the city. On a sunny afternoon no matter what day it was you were spoiled for choice on what to do; seemingly every weekend there was a free music festival in one of the cities numerous parks. With the Stella Polaris festival, that included James Murhpy (the guy from LCD Soundsytem) and one half of Massive Attack headlining, turning out to be a personal favourite. The Zulu Summer Cinema experience regularly played movies free to thousands of Danes chilling in recliner chairs at Fælledparken,, The free public swimming pools in the canals were always busy (don’t worry the water is much, much cleaner than you think) and if you just fancied chilling and chatting with some of the hippest people you’ll ever meet Nørrebro’s very own aptly nicknamed hipster bridge is a sight not to miss. Littered with boom boxes, slick hair and Carlsberg cans it is the perfect place to observe Copenhageners in their natural habitat; ie casually drinking and listening to hip-hop in a language you don’t understand.

 

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Nørrebro’s hipster bridge

Having a conversation with some of the Copenhageners on the bridge showed their admiration for the city and the country. Although they admit paying such high taxes is a pain but it was worth it for everything they received for free in return, not just festivals but the education, healthcare and even a huge 52 weeks of maternity/paternity leave gets paid for. Whilst enjoying a Carlsberg with Anders I asked what he thought was the key to enjoying yourself as a Dane.  “Just make the most out of the opportunities whilst you can, we’re quite lucky here as we live in a vibrant city with a lot of things to do. And thankfully it’s not just a summer thing, when the winter comes, sure the city might seem a bit gloomier but there’s still a lot of activities we Danes love in the colder months, be it ice skating or just staying in and having a cosy time with friends”.

 

It’s for all these reasons that my perception of the Danes in my fateful first month were in line with the perception of them. They seemed fun-loving, laid back and amiable people who knew how to make the most of their spare time. Obviously now that the winter nights are rolling in and the chill is starting to creep up their outlook is more on the hyggle (a Danish word for “cosiness”) side of things. But as for the sunny summer I can safely say they know how make the most of it. And maybe that’s the key to happiness, Britain take note.

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