Happiness – a new measure of progress!

07 JAN, 2018
by Bikash Mohanty

I always wondered how my Dentist is able to spend time talking to me on worldly topics; after every appointment for a good length, for him being such a sought-after professional. To which he explained “I am Danish”. So?! – I enquired. He said “hygge”; is central to the happiness of all Danes. It means cosiness, it means intimacy, and it means warmth — and that’s all he is doing, does with all his patients.

He explained further: Work later than 5:30 and the office is a morgue. Work at the weekend and the Danes think you are mad. The idea is that families have time to play and eat together at the end of the day, every day. He believes that the high level of meat, confectionary, and coffee consumption in Denmark is directly linked to hygge. “Hygge is about being kind to yourself — giving yourself a treat, and giving yourself, and each other, a break from the demands of healthy living”. The home is “hygge headquarters”. They also have the most living space per capita in Europe.

Danes speak passionately about their tax system, despite it claiming on an average more than 45% of their income. In fact, Danes are frequently touted as some of the happiest people on the planet. How is this possible given that the Danish government requisitions such a large portion of the population’s earnings? My dentist explained; this is how people of Denmark, worked together with their government & law-makers to ensure “spending more time at work and earning more money does not essentially mean more money in individual pockets”. Higher incomes are taxed very highly.   This certainly takes away the justification for earning more. In stead people spend time at home, together with friends and families.

An article from Oxford Students read; In a country like the UK where there is much more a culture of looking out for ourselves, our family, and perhaps our business, rather than society as a whole, it seems unlikely that rates of tax comparable to those in Denmark will ever gain considerable support. For us in the UK; ‘tax’ has very negative connotations and is often considered a burden rather than an investment. This is sad given the convincing evidence that the Nordic model of high taxation, despite reducing people’s monthly income, can lead to a much greater overall satisfaction with life. Danes are frequently touted as some of the happiest people on the planet. And the UK has a reputation for poor work-life balance and days full of hurry and worry.

Ambition is not necessarily a positive attribute and can even be considered embarrassing in Denmark. There is less of a drive for constant promotion and material gains. Danes care much more about how they feel on the inside. They do not measure their worth by their house, car or salary, but rather by how happy they are.

It is largely Danish culture that allows the country to balance happiness and high taxes so masterfully. Ingrained feelings of anti-elitism and social responsibility, as well as trust in the government, mean that Danes have the motivation to work despite much of their income never reaching their pockets. Many directly experience the benefits of high levels of government spending, perhaps by being funded through university or given training and help to find a new job when they become unemployed. When Danes first begin paying tax, therefore, most have already seen the advantages of the system and as a result understand that their contribution is worthwhile.

Happiness is becoming a core concern for the people who pass the laws shaping the circumstances of our lives. In recent years, happiness, well-being and quality of life have made a powerful imprint on policy-making. The United Nations passed a resolution inviting countries to start measuring the happiness of their populations. Similarly, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development now includes life satisfaction as a parameter for the development of the member countries, and OECD Secretary General Ángel Gurría declares that "Improving the quality of our lives should be the ultimate target of public policies."

These ambitions reflect the growing awareness among people, politicians and scientists that economic progress is no longer a satisfactory indicator for the progress of a society.Despite economic growth, we see massive economic anxiety. We see countries such as the United States and South Korea having achieved tremendous growth in the past decades, but failing to convert wealth into well-being for the people. Denmark is by no means a perfect utopia, and the country faces challenges and issues like any other country. But Denmark can truly be a source of inspiration in how countries can increase quality of life.

That’s all I wanted to pass on to you lovely comrades. Hope the end of 1st week of the New Year has been invigorating. A lot more is on its way. Are we prepared to grab? They say “Urdu” language is exotic. I don’t know, I don’t understand much, only few words only. But they sound exotic. Listen to this song…and? What you think? Have a good night. Subh-ratri, Sabah Khair. Until later…