Cloaked in almost total darkness during the winter months, Denmark nonetheless rates second in the World Database for Happiness. Known for its egalitarian principles and strong social safety net, Denmark has a very high tax rate.
Danes aren’t particularly bothered by this, Buettner discovered, because they are satisfied with the way their taxes are spent, and they don’t have the same attachment to “getting ahead” felt so keenly by many Americans. “The Danish path to happiness isn’t about aspiring to scale peaks,” Buettner explains, “but rather about the satisfaction that comes from living on a high plateau.”
Take the example of Jan Hammer, a garbage collector in Denmark’s second-largest city, Århus. Hammer is married and the father of three girls. On his annual salary of $80,000, he drives a Mercedes and takes his family to Greece each year. What’s more, he works only 21 hours a week, and after going to the gym and spa provided by his union, he arrives home by 3 p.m. every day. He helps his daughters with their homework after school and coaches their soccer team three nights a week. His life, by Buettner’s description, is “rewarding and full.”
Hammer takes pride in his profession. “You can’t find a better job than delivering garbage,” he tells Buettner on an early-morning ride through the alleys of Århus. The hours are excellent, he says. The high rate of pay matches that of a Danish lawyer, and there’s no social stigma attached to the vocation.
Thanks to their tax base, Denmark’s vast middle class is able to rely on a range of public services. Public funds guarantee everything from support for the elderly to paychecks for university students, so people’s incomes don’t get gobbled up by medical costs or educational debts.
As a result, people don’t overwork. The average Danish worker puts in 37 hours a week, takes six weeks of vacation, and has plenty of time left over for socializing and hobbies.