Archive for June 7, 2011

The Happiest Place on Earth

Posted in Biographical with tags , on June 7, 2011 by telescoper

Here I am in wonderful Copenhagen. I arrived yesterday afternoon in lovely sunny weather, found my hotel, and then went for an evening stroll. It was so hot, in fact, that I was forced to sit outside drinking cold beer instead of preparing my talk, but then I’m not on until Thursday so there’s still time. Later on, the weather broke in spectacular fashion with a huge thunderstorm brewing up over the city. I sat and watched the son et lumière show out of the hotel window into the early hours, savouring the gorgeous earthy smell that comes with summer rain.

As I’ve mentioned before, Copenhagen is one of my favourite places. I was first invited here while I was a PhD student twenty-odd years ago and have been back at least once a year ever since. Of course, in the summer, especially in June when the days are longest, the city is particularly fine, but I actually like it here all year round. Of course it’s a bit dark and a bit cold in the winter months, but snow doesn’t make things fall apart here like it does in Britain, and Copenhagen takes on an austere beauty at that time of year which endows it with a unique sense of place. And, best of all, the harsh winter seems to make people embrace the summer even more joyfully. It was lovely to see people out enjoying themselves last night in the sunshine without a hint of the violence that blights Britain’s town centres after a day like this. Above all, though, Denmark is just such a civilised place. It’s a very egalitarian society, with excellent public services, virtually no poverty, a strong sense of its own identity, and a robust democracy.

After an early breakfast in my hotel (the slightly odd but very comfortable Hotel 9 Små Hjem where I’ve stayed a number of times in the past), I found this clip on Youtube.

I find it very amusing for a number of reasons. One is the supposition that happiness goes with sunny weather, which I find laughably superficial. I’d hate to live anywhere where the weather was the same every day, even if it were warm. The reporter also seems bemused that Canada appears higher in the table than the USA. It’s no surprise to me: given the choice, I’d much rather live in Canada than America!
Above all, the snide incredulity about “cold, dreary, unspectacular” Denmark is a truly excellent self-parody. It may be cold – sometimes – but, as Billy Connolly once said, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes”. But there’s certainly nothing dreary about Denmark – it has a vibrant culture and a long and fascinating history. It may be “unspectacular”, if by that you mean that it’s not gaudy or pompous or ostentatious. Modesty is a sadly underrated virtue.

I’m not a fan of league tables – and I dread to think what bizarre methodology produced the one referred to in the clip – but as a seasoned visitor it actually comes as no suprise to me that the Danes are in the Premier division for happiness. The point is that happiness isn’t about external things such as the weather. Nor is it about showing off. It’s a frame of mind. The Danes seem to understand that better than most.

P.S. I love Victor Borge! And what’s wrong with herring sandwiches?