Living Danishly, Part I

I just got finished reading The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell and I really enjoyed reading this book. It was a pleasant change from heavier books I’ve been reading recently and provided a good mental break while being a good learning experience on other cultures.

Ms. Russell and her husband moved to Denmark when he lands a job at Lego. They move from London to Billund and need to adapt to the change in the way they live. Denmark is significantly different in outlook and treatment of their people. The country of Denmark is considered the happiest country in the world. Her journey starts in January and she has a chapter for each month of their first year there. Each month she discusses what she learned and she interviews someone who can help her understand the Danish view of what she is trying to adapt to. Additionally, she summarizes what she learned each month at the end of each chapter for a quick overview of what new insights she’s had.

Early on she interviews Christian Bjornskov, a happiness economist in Denmark. During her interview she quotes him as saying “Life’s so much easier when you can trust people”. That struck me as a profound statement. Not needing to be suspicious of the people around you would definitely improve your overall outlook. Being able to trust in the good instincts of your fellow citizens would be a great thing to have happen.

At the conclusion of her book she lists out ten things that she thinks will help people “live Danishly”. I think that these can be applied in the States and, with enough time, can change the way people interact.

Over the course of my next several posts I would like to discuss these points in more detail. Let’s look at the first two:

1. Trust (more)
This is the number one reason the Danes are so damned happy – so try it. You’ll feel better and save yourself unnecessary stress, and trusting the people around you can make them behave better, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I agree that being able to trust the good instincts of the people around you is more beneficial to you than having to constantly be on your guard for the bad behavior of your neighbors. I am fortunate in that I live in a community where I don’t have to wonder about my neighbors. People wave and smile in passing or stop to chat with strangers. There is a sense of community here that is hard to find other places. I know my neighbors and we greet each other when we are out. I’ve spoken with friends of mine who live in the same area and they all say the same thing. There is a more social aspect to living around here. People are more friendly and open.

2. Get hygge
Remember the simple pleasures in life – light a candle, make yourself a cup of coffee, eat some pastries. See? You’re feeling better already.

Hygge is simply defined as building sanctuary and community. Simpler pleasures of friends and family. Not the hither and yon rush of our hectic daily lives. We should strive to do more of this. Spending time together, completely in the moment with friends and family. This is something I struggle with, constantly checking my email or other electronic distractions. I want to get better at this. Perhaps plan more events with friends and family that are not distracted by the busyness of life but a slow, deliberate time spent in the company of those around me.

In my next entries I will continue to look at her remaining eight points and discuss them. In the meantime, please find a copy of this book and read it if this appeals to you.

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