I admit to being completely biased to the appeal of Denmark, as my family is Danish and I travel to Denmark as frequently as I am able to see them. But a recent study has borne out what I've experienced myself for years: the people of Denmark are the happiest people on Earth. (study here-U.S. is #26)
But Danish happiness is one that most Americans don't seem to grasp, because most Americans confuse well being with being well off. Danish happiness is derived from lower expectations, rather than having to be #1. The need to be superlative is supplanted with a contentment of where you are and not needing to keep up with the Joneses. It is also a contentment of not worrying about some basic necessities: healthcare, childcare, education, retirement and long term care. Republicans are quick to demonize the socialism as something akin to the scary Red notion of communism, and it's true that in a socialist democracy like Denmark, the average person is taxed at about 50%, which is uncomfortably high to our American ears, but ask yourself how much of your paycheck goes to health insurance, childcare, college savings plans and retirement accounts. Few people in the US can say that less than 50% of their paychecks don't go towards those needs already. In fact, one of my friends discovered that they actually brought home more money by having the wife stay at home with the kids, because her entire paycheck went to childcare and costs relating to her work.
In The Science of Happiness, author Stefan Klein at this phenomena and comes to some conclusions on a meta-level on what creates happiness in a society and the results might surprise you. He finds that there are three critical standards that must be met: a civic sense, social equality and control over our own lives. The more participatory the democracy, the more equal the social and income distribution among the citizens and the more self-determination (meaning not being forced to do a job you dislike because you have to pay the bills), the happier the society is.
That's not so scary, is it?
You can get the full segment and transcripts on CBS.com