The Happiest Place on Earth

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?

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5 Responses to “The Happiest Place on Earth”

  1. John Peacock Says:

    Sounds like Copenhagen shares many of Edinburgh’s virtues…

    I haven’t been there since the 1990s, and at that time I was shocked to see that it was infected with a plague of graffiti: that kind of breakdown of order seemed against the generally civilized air of the place. Since that time, the graffiti problem seems to have got worse everywhere – has Copenhagen managed to get a grip on it? I do hope so.

    • telescoper Says:

      There is some graffiti. There wasn’t any when I first came here in 1988. You see groups of anarchist youths wandering about which wasn’t the case 20 years ago. Perhaps the two are related. I can’t tell as I can’t read the graffiti! Perhaps the younger generation is less content than the older.

  2. telescoper Says:

    Politics here is quite different to the UK. On the one hand, it’s what many people would assume to be the epitome of socialism – high taxes, high public spending, etc. The gap between the two wage earners and the lowest is astonishingly small (and between professor and PhD student). On the other hand, Danes are also quite conservative; they tend to like the way they’ve set things up and don’t want to change it much.

    When I bought my railway ticket yesterday I had an amusing chat about coins with the lady at the ticket office. I had some old ones which I wasn’t sure were still vaild. Cue vitriolic outburst about the Euro. Denmark may be a small country, but they’re not afraid to say “no”! It seems the Danes are opposed to losing the Krone in just about the same way as we British are opposed to losing the pound!

  3. Say hi to Berian if you bump into him.

  4. Bryn Jones Says:

    Two curious facts about Danish politics:

    (1) The current and previous two prime ministers were called Mr. Rasmussen.

    (2) The leader of the main social democratic party is a Kinnock.

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