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A Key to Happiness

No matter which happiness or quality of life ranking report you reference, Denmark will sit at (or near) the top of each list.

This intrigued me, so on my recent trip to Denmark I had the opportunity to ask some Danes about what makes them so happy.  Their responses were very modest (this is how they seem to be by nature, so no surprise there), but they all had a common theme:

Contentment and humility

This makes sense when you think about it.  In the United States, we take pride in our ability to push the boundaries of innovation and achievement.  We are praised for accolades and we beat our chest when said accolade is achieved.  This type of attitude seems to be promoted in the US.  It's the more is always better mentality.  We have instilled an ongoing race to the top that is summarized perfectly by the words of Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, “If you ain’t first, you’re last.”

While this sense of drive has many benefits (especially in a capitalistic society), it also puts a major upward pressure on our definition of success which can have unintended consequences.  The bar is set extraordinarily high before we even set foot on our journey.  This can foster a life of stress for most people, in addition to chronic feelings of inadequacy that can eat away at one's soul and self-esteem.

The Danes also emphasize design and colors

The Danes also emphasize design and colors

In turn, the Danish (and other Scandinavian countries) live by a principle called The Law of Jante.  In essence, this means putting the group before the individual and not boasting about individual accomplishments or being jealous of others; quite different from a lot of the tabloid culture we have developed stateside.

So what if we changed how we perceive success?  Even better, what if we got rid of our drive for societal success all together?  Instead of shooting for praise in the eyes of the public, what if we targeted contentment within ourselves?  To me, this means pursuing something you are curious about and gives meaning to your day-to-day.

I’m not here to bash on the United States, as I am as red, white and blue as they come.  And I'm certainly not here to say that a person should give up and live below their potential simply because society's bar is set too high.  However, I do think it’s silly to assume that we have no room for improvement as a country in how we judge each other and ourselves.  All things considered, we are still a very adolescent country relative to the rest of the globe, and no one has ever argued that teenagers are without faults.

As Tony Robbins has famously stated, “If you want to be successful, find someone who has achieved the results you want and copy what they do and you'll achieve the same results.”  If the Danish have developed a way of living that cultivates a happier populous, it would be short-sighted of us to not try and apply some of that knowledge within our own society.

So my challenge to you is to focus on being content with who you are and all that you have.  Focus on being humble about your achievements, while supporting and promoting those around you.  If you do, I would bet that you will soon find yourself feeling a bit more joy, and also find that the Danes have certainly stumbled onto something even more rich and satisfying than their recipes for killer pastries.

Are you constantly comparing yourself to your friends, family or neighbors?  Are you judging your own self-worth with a job title or societal norms?  If so, maybe it’s time for a shift in mindset.