The Scandinavian Secret to Happiness


Erika Hartman, In-Depth Writer

In our world, many people strive to reach complete happiness and satisfaction. As elusive and unattainable as that goal might be, some are closer to reaching it than others. According to a report started in 2012, Nordic and Scandinavian countries, such as Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland,  Iceland, the Faroe Islands, Greenland and Aland, regularly turn up at the top of the international happiness scale. However, the United States, on the other hand, typically lands around 18th or 19th place in the world for overall happiness. 


What makes Scandinavians so happy?

Studies performed by Jeff Sachs, the co-creator of the World Happiness Report and a professor at Columbia University, have found that Scandinavians overall have more “satisfaction with the way one’s life is going” and that happiness is due to many factors. Those factors include things like free education and healthcare, low crime rates, great social security,  a like-minded population and overall prosperity. Scandinavian and Nordic countries generally have an advanced state of democracy and political rights, lack corruption, have trust between citizens, safety, social cohesion, gender equality, and equal distribution of incomes. Additionally and perhaps most importantly these countries prioritize a work-life balance, which according to Sachs, is the ‘formula for happiness’.


Work-life Balance

Due to this work-life balance, Scandinavians often have more time for hobbies and passion projects. These activities can be extremely fulfilling and can bring a large amount of contentment. One may be thinking, how do these people have time for themselves and such activities? They simply work less! According to the Bureau Labor of Statistics,  a full-time job in Denmark is typically 37 hours a week whereas in America it is 44 hours per week. But an even more outstanding difference is the Danes’ attitude toward working long hours. While many Americans view working late as a badge of honor and a way to get ahead, in Denmark it is seen as a sign of weakness and laziness. They often see it as one not being able to get things done in the allotted work time. Alternatively, Danish people usually work the whole workday, rarely socializing or doing short errands during time off. Along with this, Scandinavian countries typically allow you to have a very flexible work schedule.


Time off

Another secret to Scandinavian happiness is their extensive vacation time. In Denmark, full-time employees are guaranteed 5 weeks of paid vacation. To put that in perspective, the average American worker with five years of work experience is only given 15 days( about 2 weeks) of paid vacation, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the United States doesn’t provide a federal paid vacation policy, meaning that many Americans aren’t even given those 2 weeks. According to a 2019 study performed by the center for economic and policy research, 23% of Americans don’t receive paid vacation and 22% don’t get paid holidays. Furthermore, only 41% of U.S. workers feel like the organization they work for encourages employees to take time off, whereas in other countries it is understood that time off helps increase productivity.


Social Services

A third reason that Nordic countries are often happier is because of their personal and government social support systems. According to Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, “The Scandinavian countries are very big on social support,” and are there to help others, not work against them.  This not only helps all citizens socially but also economically for they consistently have a high GDP per capita. A study conducted by De Neve and fellow social scientists found that people in Scandinavian countries are more likely to pick up and return a stranger’s wallet than in those that appeared lower down the rankings of overall happiness,  showing that this lifestyle/way of living positively impacts people and their relationships. Finally, the government in Nordic countries is never short of providing everything they can for their citizens. They have everything from unemployment insurance and child support to programs that help immigrants with the language of their workplace. 


All in all, it is evident that the Scandinavian ‘secret’ to happiness is really just a well-functioning, considerate government and a cohesive society. Although many think it is impossible to bring the Nordic political model into the United States, one should push for political change.  In order to bring greater happiness to Americans, people must continue to fight for personal rights such as free health care, gender equality, and a reasonable amount of time off from work. However, as these countries show, the government also plays a huge role in a countries’ well-being. Trust must be built between the government and the American people. It is time to rise up and make people happier!