As Americans, we live in a country where being a workaholic is praised, child care is never free and higher education is a massive expense. We often look to countries like Denmark, Sweden and Norway as peaceful places where no one is overworked and everyone dresses cool. Journalist Michael Booth has lived in Scandinavia --- Denmark to be exact --- for 10 years. While he says he really does love Denmark and lives there by choice, he wants to correct a few misconceptions outsiders have. Here, he sets the record straight.
The happiness myth
For decades Denmark would always come in on top as the happiest country in the world, but Booth says these surveys can be misleading. “When I spoke to the people behind these surveys, they kind of admit that ‘happy’ is the wrong word and they only use it to get headlines,” he tells us. “What they’re really measuring is life satisfaction and how content people are. Danes are incredibly content. But I wouldn’t say they’re happy,” he says. The key difference here is being mildly OK with how everything is going versus completely overjoyed.
Getting what you pay for?
We often talk admiringly about how Nordic counties have free college tuition, free universal health care and inexpensive child care. But is the quality of these services worth what they pay in taxes? “Well, that’s kind of my big grouch as a foreigner,” Booth says. “It’s tough as a freelancer to give up more than 50 percent of your income directly. And then the food and shops are more expensive than anywhere else in Europe as well,” he says, citing the 25 percent sales tax Denmark has on clothes. He goes on to say the services they get are mediocre and because of that, more and more people are paying for private schools and health care.
It’s easier to be a social climber
Here, the American Dream is that if you work hard enough, you can jump from a lower class to a higher class. Ironically, the American Dream is easier to accomplish in Scandinavia. “It starts with free education,” Booth says. “If a working class kid wants to become a professional, he doesn’t have to take out loans to finance his education.”
Scandinavia, striving toward mediocrity
Though social mobility is much easier, Booth says flaunting wealth is a big faux-pas in these countries and being “too ambitious” is looked down upon. “A lack of ambition really drives these societies,” he says.
3 things we can learn from Denmark:
1. Be social: Danish people have high social memberships, such as being part of a sports league or volunteering.
2. Appreciate the simple things: Instead of valuing things that are flashy or expensive, Danes truly value spending time with their family and friends more than anything else.
3. Stop working so hard: When it comes to work-life balance, Danes tip the scale way in favor of life. They work to live, not live to work.
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