The Danish Key to the City of Happiness

For the second week in his happiness adventure, Golin Untern Les Latchman immerses himself in the urban life of the everyday Danish citizen.

Visiting the great cities of Copenhagen and Aarhus, I’ve fulfilled the happiness actions of connecting with friendly locals, continuing my learning with several museum visits, being active via bike exploration and as a result taken notice of each cities hidden intricacies.

Reflecting on this eventful week, there are so many insights to be drawn, the first has to be the Danish passion for cycling! Stepping outside of Copenhagen central station I was overwhelmed by how many cyclists were on the road. People who were young, old, in a suit or sportswear — streamed past me in both directions. I later found out that more people now officially cycle than drive in Copenhagen.

I found it refreshing to see so many people active, which is one of the main insights to be drawn from the Danish passion for cycling. This is because it’s well documented that regular exercise is directly linked to personal wellbeing.

From my own experience — I found it to be both liberating and energising. By choosing to cycle around the cities, I was out in the fresh air, taking in all the intricacies and exploring what they had to offer. 

From a different perspective, I think the choice to cycle also ties into the ‘Jante’ philosophy I discovered in Denmark. This idea that everyone is equal, material things hold no status and bragging about ones possessions is very much looked down upon. For example, with the majority of people riding bikes, it essentially puts people on the same ‘level’ and the increasingly important ‘status’ element of, for example, driving a particular car is completely removed.

From a broader perspective this Danish philosophy can reduce envy (the enemy of happiness) and encourage people to be content with what they have, instead of continually seeking more.

Another observation was the colourful nature of the cities – buildings in hues of red, orange, blue and yellow, with different shades of green provided by the sheer abundance of local parks. This was most noticeable on a local tour of Copenhagen arranged via ‘Showaround’. This app connects visitors with locals, who essentially give their own unique tours of their cities. On short notice I arranged an evening meet up with Kristine, a graduate who has lived in Copenhagen her whole life. We first grabbed some street food from the bustling Papirøen, took a stroll past the vibrant Nyhavn buildings and then went on to visit several local parks. 

Drawing upon the ideology of semiotics, these bright and natural colours are associated with an array of positive ideas or thoughts, such as fun, safety, peace, romance and of course happiness. The ubiquitous presence of green spaces has been heavily linked with reduced stress levels, increased perception of life quality and increasing the effect of physical activity.

I was also intrigued by the pure sense of safety I felt in roaming through the silent streets and pitch black parks at 12am. Growing up in Birmingham, I would never consider going to a foreign park at night – yet here I was, casually strolling around feeling safe and baffled by it all. I asked Kristine about the general safety here and she recounted a tradition where mothers regularly leave their children in prams outside whilst they shop or grab a coffee.

I think this sense of safety and genuine trust in society naturally helps alleviate stress and ultimately creates a strong platform for happiness.

Finally, I visited Tivoli gardens, the amusement park situated in the heart of Copenhagen that’s also the second oldest amusement park in the world. There is great importance placed on both leisure and family time within Danish values, which felt symbolically represented by the location of the park at the heart of the city.

Speaking to several of these citizens during my day there, I learnt there’s an intense working culture for both parents in Denmark – however this cultural consensus to make time for family and leisure ultimately provides the perfect balance for them to be happy.

When taking into consideration both the city insights and the aforementioned countryside insights, it becomes easier to comprehend why the Danish are consistently some of the happiest people in the world.

I’m now off to visit, officially the happiest people in the world, which according to the 2017 United Nations report is Norway. I’ll be delving deep into their cultures to create unique insights, but also comparing and contrasting my experience to Denmark to get a more complete picture of sustained Nordic happiness.

Follow me on Instagram to keep up to date with my journey: @lesliealfonso