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Denmark Is the Happiest Country on Earth! You'll Never Guess Why

Hint: It isn't the weather.
 
 
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Copenhagen, Denmark
Photo Credit: Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock.com

 
 
 
 

 

Last month, Denmark  was crowned the happiest country in the world.

“The top countries generally rank higher in all six of the key factors identified in the World Happiness Report,” wrote University of British Columbia economics professor John Helliwell, one of the report's contributing authors. “Together, these six factors explain three quarters of differences in life evaluations across hundreds of countries and over the years.”

The six factors for a happy nation split evenly between concerns on a government- and on a human-scale. The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity.

"There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being," economist Jeffrey Sachs said in a statement  at the time of the report's release.

But why Denmark over any of the other wealthy, democratic countries with small, educated populations? And can the qualities that make this Nordic country the happiest around apply to other cultures across the globe? Here are a few things Danes do well that any of us can lobby for:

Denmark supports parents

While American women scrape by with  an average maternal leave of 10.3 weeks, Danish families receive  a total of 52 weeks of parental leave. Mothers are able to take 18 weeks and fathers receive their own dedicated 2 weeks at up to 100 percent salary. The rest of the paid time off is up to the family to use as they see fit.

But the support doesn't stop at the end of this time. Danish children have access to free or low-cost child care. And early childhood education is associated with  health and well-being throughout life for its recipients --  as well as for mothers. What's more, this frees up young mothers to return to the work force if they'd like to. The result? In Denmark,  79 percent of mothers return to their previous level of employment, compared to 59 percent of American women. These resources mean that women contribute  34 to 38 percent of income in Danish households with children, compared to American women, who contribute 28 percent of income.

Health care is a civil right -- and a source of social support

Danish citizens expect and receive health care as a basic right. But what's more, they know how to effectively use their health systems. Danish people are in touch with their primary care physician an average of nearly seven times per year,  according to a 2012 survey of family medicine in the country. And that means they have a single advocate who helps them navigate more complicated care.

"This gatekeeping system essentially is designed to support the principle that treatment ought to take place at the lowest effective care level along with the idea of continuity of care provided by a family doctor,"  wrote the authors of the family medicine survey.

By contrast, Americans seek medical care an average of fewer than four times per year and they don't just visit their general practitioner -- this figure includes emergency room visits, where many uninsured Americans must access doctors. This diversity of resources means that many Americans don't have continuity of care -- not a single medical professional advocating for them and putting together a comprehensive medical history.

 
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