I continue my anthropological observations on the culture and the inhabitants of this distant and exotic land, in which it has been my privilege to reside during the last several months. In previous blogs I have already raised the question, which we can call the mystery of the Nordic Model. The puzzle is this: how is it possible that although the Danes (to take the specific country that I have been observing from the inside) don’t work long hours and are not particularly efficient when they do work, nevertheless enjoy a very high standard of living? Their quality of life is particularly high when non-materialistic measures of satisfaction are included. For example, this year Denmark was crowned as the happiest country in the world.
Apparently, the Danes themselves are as puzzled as the rest of the world on the question. The environment is certainly not conducive to producing a sunny disposition. I look outside the window, where everything is grey and rain is falling (not even snow, that would be more cheerful).
And by four pm, it’s not even grey, it’s black outside. I would expect a depressed nation, not one that scores consistently at the top of the happiness scale.
The Danish government even funded an institute to try to figure out the “Danish happiness puzzle.” In a recent report, Danish Happiness Explained, Happiness Research Institute came to the following conclusion:
There is a high level of trust among strangers in the Danish society. This is also true for the other Nordic countries, which usually also ranks high in happiness surveys. The trust among strangers seems to reduce stress and worry on a daily basis. People are comfortable with leaving their kids in strollers outside cafés, when having coffee inside and shop owners trust customers to come back and pay for groceries if the customer forgets his or her wallet. This makes life more convenient, hassle free and increase overall subjective well-being.
Interestingly, this conclusion agrees with my own explanation of the high level of Danish material well-being (at which I arrived before reading this report). It looks like social trust and cooperation—Robert Putnam’s social capital, Ibn Khaldun’s asabiya—is at the root of both economic and spiritual (‘subjective’) well-being.
Some other observations I have noted now appear to make sense in light of this hypothesis. For example, my colleagues in the department typically get together for lunch, almost every day. They congregate together in rooms that are also used as classrooms (but not at lunch time), some people bring fairly elaborate two-course meals, and there is a lot of bonhomie at these, essentially daily, occasions.
On one hand, such lengthy lunches cut even more into productivity, which is not particularly high, because, as I said in the previous blog, many begin leaving work starting at 3 pm. On the other hand, such ritualistic feasting surely works its magic on creating a shared sense of belonging, which is an important basis for social cooperation and trust. Furthermore, I can’t be sure since I don’t understand Danish (a grave failing in an anthropologist who studies native culture, but I am an amateur anthropologist) but my guess is that a lot of business is concluded in this setting. So ‘waste’ is more apparent than real.
Source: the author
Next: Yule in Denmark