There was a recent study done on what countries are the happiest in the world. Columbia University Earth Institute graded countries on these subjects: health, family and job security, political freedom and government corruption.

The top five “happy countries” are:

  1. Denmark
  2. Finland
  3. Norway
  4. The Netherlands
  5. Canada

Coming in at #11 is the United States.

Honestly, I don’t walk around and say “these people are so happy! They must be one of the happiest people on earth!” But I have been thinking about this study and wondering are the Dutch that happy?

This is what I know-the Dutch don’t seem to be that stressed. They are known for their honesty, and maybe that helps. They get things off their chests and move on. They do value the quality of their lives, they are not just driven by their salaries or their careers. They are not just defined by their professions, much importance is put on family life and how they relax and LIVE. This kind of balance, I would assume, gives them happiness. The Dutch people like and request part time work, this country has one of the highest amount of part time workers in the world.

One thing that I love about this country is the fact that the Dutch are not really interested in butting into people’s private lives. There is a good sense of freedom to live the life you want, as long as no one gets hurt. Freedom to attend or not to attend church, to marry who you love and to live a full life with independence. Does that equal happiness? It sure doesn’t hurt. By the way, every single adult citizen must have medical insurance. It is not free, but there are levels that you can select and the government does subsidize low income families. But would you not think that you are less stressed if you do not have to worry about medical coverage? Every child, until they are 18 years old, gets all their medical care for free. Parents have one less thing to worry about.

Yes, the economy is hurting. People have lost their jobs and are struggling. But there is a strong resilience to face the variety of struggles that come their way. These are people who wore wooden shoes to work the farms, who built windmills, who figured out how to stop water and make fabulous cheese. You cannot escape history here, whether it is the Romans, Napoleon or the second world war…the proof of the past is here.

There is a popular saying here: act normal. That means that the Dutch do not believe in flaunting their success. As an example, if a sports team is a big winner, there will be a parade and a rally, and then life goes on. Their philosophy is, you did a good job but don’t keep bringing it up, act normal. You are not allowed to get full of yourself here, as the Dutch don’t approve of bragging or being too proud.

On any good weather weekend, you will see the bike lanes filled with families. People of all ages are riding their bikes or roller skating. They are certainly enjoying The Netherlands. I would guess that they would say they have a good life, that this is a great place to live. They would also say it is not perfect, but what country is?

So what is it about Denmark that makes it such a happy place? Denmark is a little less than twice the size of Massachusetts and has a population of 5.5 million people. The population of Massachusetts is 6.5 million and that means that they are a lot more crowded in America, than they are in Denmark. You will have to discover for yourself all the great reasons why the Danish are consistently considered the happiest people on earth, but one thing that struck me was their famous motto:  “Jante-lov” which means you’re no better than anyone else. The Danes live by this. And it also sounds very Dutch.

I think the bottom line is that people in Denmark have a lot of space to live and they never have to fight about who gets the most herring. There is plenty for everyone. As for the Dutch, they just keep going. There is a little turmoil right now, as the government recently collapsed. But people are still out and about, the bikes are turning, the ducks are still crossing the road and Heinekens are being popped open across this land. It is a “prima” life (Dutch for good or great).

What makes me very happy is reading a fabulous book. I can’t imagine anyone not loving this book:  The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. He had me from page one.

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  • Aledys Ver  On May 4, 2012 at 11:17 am

    This is such a good post, Jane. Many people (and people I know and who live here in the NL) would not really take the Dutch for “happy” people but I think they are. Despite the difficulties, these are people that enjoy the things that matter: being with their families, relaxing, enjoying nature and giving work, career and material things the place they should have in one’s life.

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