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Hunting Happiness in Denmark

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.

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