Thursday, April 12, 2012
Just the little things
Once again, Denmark has been rated the world’s happiest country. This time, it’s a report claimed to be the first ever official study, commissioned by the UN and published by Columbia University’s Earth Institute. Before this, the Gallup World Poll released data in 2010 ranking Denmark the happiest country among the 155 surveyed. In 2008, the World Values Survey by the US National Science Foundation also put Denmark on the top of their most content nations list. And back in 2007, surveys done by Cambridge University and Leicester University both agreed that the Danes are the happiest people on earth.
One can easily give several reasons for this. The Danes are quite wealthy, living in a secure society with almost zero crime and corruption. They grow up with good health care and education systems (they get paid to go to school). After graduation, they work only 37 hours a week (Mon-Thu 7.5 + Fri 7), with 5 weeks of paid vacation per year.
Good systems build up a more civilized society, but they don’t guarantee personal happiness, which is more a subjective emotion or attitude. “It’s probably because we have very low expectations,” my Danish friend Goldie told me. “When it rains, we simply shrug our shoulders. When the sun comes out, we’ll say, ‘wow, this is really amazing!’” Take a look at some of the questions asked by the Gallup Poll: Did you enjoy something you did yesterday? Were you proud of something you did yesterday? Did you learn something yesterday? I guess at the end, it all comes down to the little things people experience every day.
If you are not expecting much, many little things in your life can be wonderful. For the Danes, a few drinks with friends, a sausage on the street, or a dinner with family is enough to make a joyful day. They are proud of their lives and proud of what they have: Danish pastry, Carlsberg, Tivoli, Hans Christian Andersen, Georg Jensen, Arne Jacobsen, Poul Henningsen, Queen Margrethe, Lars von Trier (maybe until Cannes 2011), and Daniel Agger’s tattoos. They joke about the little mermaid being super tiny, but deep down, they love her as the romantic symbol of the kingdom. There are millions of bikes in Copenhagen. If this simple vehicle can take you around perfectly, who needs the newest model of Chevy SUV?
The Danes can find “hygge” in the dark and cold winters through the soft glow of a simple Le Klint lampshade, or the balmy smell of a candle. When summer comes, Copenhageners strip and lie down naturally on the waterfront deck in the middle of the city, sunbathing. Not far from the boardwalk, the Harbor Bath is certainly one of the most popular urban hang-out in the city.
Oh yeah, the Harbor Bath. You know Bjarke. He is so typically Danish and looks always so happy. He acts like a kid, easily psyched about simple, straight-forward, and sometimes even stupid ideas. He has this charisma that can convince anybody that architecture is in fact very simple and fun.
If life is all so simple and beautiful, why do we need ambitions? Georg Jensen and Arne Jacobsen gave their answers through quality: design with close attention down to a single screw or a door knob. Bjarke seems to believe in quantity: do a competition every week and you may win every month. Either way, the little moments of simple pleasure could lead to greater joy at the end.