Lowered ExpectationsBy Eric Weiner
Mysterious are the ways of human happiness, as anyone who has surveyed the perplexing, often contradictory research findings can attest. But one nugget in particular truly boggles: Denmark is the happiest nation in the world. More than two-thirds of Danes report being “very satisfied with their lives,” according to the Eurobarometer Survey, a figure that has held steady for more than 30 years. True, Danes tend to be healthy, married and active — all contributing factors to happiness. But why, researchers wondered, are Danes happier than Finns and Swedes, who share many of these traits, not to mention a similar culture and climate?
The answer is, in a word, expectations. Danes have low expectations and so “year after year they are pleasantly surprised to find out that not everything is rotten in the state of Denmark,” says James W. Vaupel, a demographer who has investigated Danish bliss.About once a year, some new study confirms Denmark’s status as a happiness superpower. Danes receive this news warily, with newspaper headlines that invariably read: “We’re the happiest lige nu.” Lige nu is a Danish phrase that means literally “just now” but strongly connotes a sense of “for the time being but probably not for long.” Danes, in other words, harbor low expectations about everything, including their own happiness... Read more