Hunting Happiness in Denmark
The Happiness Research Institute
November 11, 2019
The Happiness Research Institute was paid a visit from the host of Spanish television show El cazador de cerebros, Pere Estupinyà, for an episode dedicated to “being happy in Denmark”. Pere makes the journey from Spain to Scandinavia to investigate the secrets of Nordic happiness. The purpose of the programme is to investigate the role of science in solving global problems, in order to both help us make sense of how the world works and to increase our happiness.
Pere is welcomed to Copenhagen with open arms by a fellow smiling Spaniard;
our senior data scientist Alejandro. As Pere’s first point of contact in Denmark,
Alejandro is tasked with explaining how we are able to measure happiness
using science. Denmark is not the only country in which experts are doing so,
in fact, the United Kingdom and Bhutan are both doing the same thing. What’s
more, there is an increasing number of scientists who are specialising in
happiness. Using his own experience to exemplify, Alejandro explains how for
the past 14 years he has been recording his personal happiness; writing a diary
at the end of each day. The principal conclusion he has taken from this
practice, is that is impossible to not be unhappy from time to time. Alejandro
elucidates that in order to achieve happiness, sometimes we need to long for
certain things which make happiness possible.
One ambition of the work at the Happiness Research Institute is to construct
surroundings which facilitate increasing people’s happiness, something which
the host reveals he finds very novel. To construct these surroundings, we ask
people how happy they feel and then use these evaluations to find a way to
make them happier, with distinct interventions. As Alejandro explains, for the
past year we have been working with a company here in Denmark, Valcon,
who’s ambition it is to become the happiest company, in one of the happiest
countries in the world. We are asking them how happy they are and trying to
figure out who is not so happy, in order to formulate resolutions.
Following a whistle-stop introduction to happiness research from Alejandro, the
next leg of Pere’s exploration of the culture of happiness in Denmark, focussing
on its integration in the workplace, took him to the Valcon office. There he
meets with company director Thomas Fischer, to learn about their happiness
journey. Thomas explains the motivation for their happiness initiative,
elucidating that it is the importance of the people at Valcon: the prosperity and
good feeling of their employees. It is the director’s own conviction that happier
people show more innovativeness, productivity and resilience in their role, they
are better leaders and make better decisions, because being happy incites
fulfilment and thrift.
To understand why Valcon contacted the Happiness Research Institute to
improve well-being, Thomas is asked to answer why they did not follow their
intuitions or a guru instead. In response, Thomas expounds that after analysing
the environment at Valcon and considering what they wanted to achieve, they
became aware of how the ODCE measures happiness on a national scale.
Valcon adopted this perspective and asked themselves how they could
measure happiness. It was at this point Valcon asked the Happiness Research
Institute if it was possible to apply this to a company. We told them it was, and
the process began. Valcon started to work with concrete activities in order to
be able to develop some areas that, if they improved, they would increase
happiness. Another factor they considered was stress. At Valcon they have
taken into consideration that everyone will experience stress at some point,
therefore their priority is to bring light to the subject and work on it before it is
too late. Thomas believes this concrete intervention is the most important. So,
what did we do at the institute? We sent surveys to the employees and
analysed the processes to identify the particular factors that should correct, 7
in their case, and design strategies to improve well-being.
Remaining at the Valcon offices, Pere once again sits down with Alejandro,
joined by Isabella Arendt, to discuss the 6 factors which are the most important
for satisfaction at work: social relationships, free time, work satisfaction,
physical health, self-esteem and stress. Isabella explains that these factors
demonstrate how at times we take the most important things for granted: an
important perspective in explaining these 6 factors demonstrate that at times
we take the most important things for granted: having a sense of meaning, that
with our work we contribute towards common good or a better world, is in
reality more important. In our daily life, we forget why we do what we do.
People are surprisingly similar in the things which make them happy. Here at
Valcon, they do not prescribe to their employees what they should do with their
free time, they simply encourage them to spend their time together, doing
whatever it is that they prefer.
Third stop is the Happiness Research Institute office where Pere meets our CEO
Meik. Meik takes Pere through the 6 factors of The World Happiness Report with
Pere. Following which, the conversation moves to discuss tax in Denmark. Meik
explains how 8 or 9 of every Danish person would say they are satisfied paying
their taxes. This is because in general, the population feels as though they
receive many things in exchange for their taxes, even though they are higher.
They have good infrastructures, health care system, unemployment benefits,
free university. As is commonplace with interviews The Little Book of Hygge
author, Pere takes the opportunity to try and understand the concept, which as
Meik explains is the art of creating a nice atmosphere; it’s about being with the
people you love, enjoying good food, just relaxing and enjoying life.
Meik also acknowledges the topic of social comparisons and explains that as
social beings we compare ourselves to others, and this is shown to us in the
data, for example in income. Many people care more about their relative
income, meaning the money that they earn in comparison to their relatives,
neighbours and friends, than their total income. Pere’s final question in
solicitation of our expertise, probes Meik for his advice about what the Spanish
population needs to know in order for them to become happier. Meik responds
that it would be ideal to reduce corruption first of all, and also the employment
rates, especially amongst young people, is harmful for happiness.
Meik Wiking, CEO | Anne Henderson, Senior Analyst | Michael Birkjær, Senior Analyst | Alejandro Rubio, Senior Data Scientist | Isabella Arendt, Analyst | Micah Kaats, Analyst | Rebekka Andersen, Researcher |Alexander Gamerdinger, Researcher
John F. Helliwell, Advisor | Bent Greve, Advisor |Christian Bjørnskov, Advisor | Xavier Landes, Advisor