And the happiest country in the world is….Denmark!
That’s according to a 156-nation survey published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network.
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The survey ranks countries on aspects like healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, and social support.
I witnessed Denmark’s happiness first-hand back in 2008.
In the summer of 2008, I broadcasted my radio show live from Copenhagen for a week.
On one of the shows, I spoke with Peter Mogensen. Mogensen, an economist by training, is the chief political editor of Denmark’s second largest newspaper, Politiken.
I asked Mogensen how many Danes experience financial distress, lose their homes, or even declare bankruptcy thanks to health-related issues.
Mogensen gave me a puzzled look, and then replied, “Why, of course…none.”
I explained to him how every year in the United States, millions of people lose their jobs and their homes, and have to sell off their most beloved possessions to pay off creditors, because they can’t afford to pay the co-pays, deductibles and expenses associated with developing health ailments.
He then looked at me, shook his head sadly, and said, “Here in Denmark, we could not imagine living like that.”
Instead, they live their lives filled with happiness.
So why are the Danes happy all the time?
As The Huffington Post points out, there are a variety of factors contributing to their happiness.
First, unlike here in the United States, Denmark supports parents.
While American women only receive an average maternity leave of 10.3 weeks, Danish families receive a total of 52 weeks of parental leave.
Mothers are able to take up to 18 weeks off and fathers get 2 weeks off at up to 100 percent of their salary. And the rest of the paid time off is up to the family to use as they choose.
Danish kids also have access to low-cost or free child care, making it a lot easier for parents to go back to work and resume their careers.
The Danes are also happy because of their outstanding healthcare system.
Healthcare is a basic right in Denmark, and the Danes take full advantage of it.
Unlike here in the U.S. where many are reluctant to go to the doctor because they don’t have insurance or can’t afford the co-pays, Danes are in touch with their primary care physician an average of almost seven times per year, according to a 2012 survey of family medicine in Denmark.
Gender equality also contributes to happiness in the Arctic Circle nation.
Denmark consistently ranks in the top 10 countries in the World Economic Forum’s yearly report that measures gender equality.
The country introduced voluntary gender quotas in its political parties in the 1970’s, which has resulted in high numbers of female lawmakers over the years.
And the gender pay-gap is substantially less in Denmark than it is here in the U.S.
But the overall driving force behind happiness in Denmark is its low levels of inequality.
The average middle-class Dane pays between 45 and 53 percent in taxes, while the wealthiest Danes pay just over 60 percent. The poorest Danes (with incomes under $31,000 per year) pay around 30 percent in taxes.
While Americans may consider these tax rates high, they help to put all Danes on a level playing field.
As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett note in their brilliant book The Spirit Level, health and social problems are worse in countries with greater inequality.
That’s why the United States is nearly off the charts, while Denmark ranks very low in health and social problems.
Similarly, levels of social trust are higher in countries with lower inequality.
While Denmark ranks very high in social trust, the United States is at the bottom of the list.
In fact, the rates of just about every measurable statistic, from infant mortality and teenage pregnancy to the prevalence of mental illness and homicides, are less in countries with lower inequality.
So, if the United States wants to climb up the charts of the world’s happiest countries, we need to be doing more to fight income inequality, and that starts with rolling back the Reagan tax cuts.
It’s ridiculous that Americans who are struggling to survive day-to-day are paying more in taxes than the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.
Similarly, we need to start making corporations pay their fair share in taxes, to help support the economy and to take the burden off of hard-working Americans.
We can’t continue letting giant transnational corporations like Apple and General Electric make astronomical profits, while paying next to nothing in taxes.
Back in Denmark, they have something called hygge.
Hygge is what the Danes use to survive the darkness that the country experiences during the winter.
The sun shines for less than seven hours each day during the height of the winter in Denmark, meaning that it can become a very dark, dreary, and depressing place.
But with hygge – a feeling of being content, comfortable, and cozy – Danes are able to make it through the dark winters with happiness and joy.
It’s time we created a little hygge of our own here in America, and that starts with giving all Americans an equal chance to succeed.