A man walks up Camp Adventure, a forest tower in Denmark.

Denmark shares the secrets of happiness

Photo: Daniel Villadsen

As World Happiness Day approaches on 20 March, Denmark shares its expert-level happiness tips and the happiest places to visit.

Denmark has dominated the top end of the World Happiness Report since it launched in 2012, topping it in 2012, 2013 and 2016, and coming second in 2019 and most recently 2020, when both Aarhus and Copenhagen were ranked in the top 5 happiest cities worldwide.

So what is it about Denmark that makes it so happy?

Ask the happiness expert

Meik Wiking, CEO of The Happiness Research Institute based in Copenhagen, is an international expert on happiness.

"Denmark often does well in happiness rankings for a range of reasons. One of them is that Denmark has been able to decouple wellbeing from wealth. Happiness does not have to come at a price. Whether you are rich or poor, you will still be able to enjoy a relatively high level of quality of life."

"I experience that first-hand. One of my favourite things to do in Copenhagen is to go for a swim in the inner harbour, where the water is so clean you can swim in it. I enjoy meeting up with a few friends after work and go for a swim and have a beer. Whether I am rich or poor - that is something I can always enjoy and brings me happiness."

"We can also see the level of trust explains national differences in happiness levels. Denmark famously enjoys high levels of trust - which tourist will notice by the fact that Danes often leave their kids in strollers on the street outside while they are inside having a cup of coffee in a cafe. I think it became more evident how trust and wellbeing is connected during the pandemic." 

Islands Brygge

Photo:Lauge Elkær Furhauge

Three words to put some Danish happiness into your life

1.    The Scandinavian concept of ‘friluftsliv’ – living life in the fresh air – is easy to activate wherever you are and does not depend on your income level. Consider that weather is not a barrier to getting outside in nature, and choose to embrace outdoor swimming like Meik, or countryside walks and cycling. As the saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing!

2.    The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ is all about enjoying yourself. Take some time to consider what brings you happiness – a beer with a friend, a slice of cake or an hour or two spent with a good book – and make it a priority! A little bit of hygge every day is the key to a happy life.

3.    Look at ways to build trust in your community or area. Danes have a high level of connectedness, and love to get involved volunteering or joining groups. We also have a large number of roadside stalls where you’re trusted to pay for your fruit and veg without a cashier looking over your shoulder. It all increases your feelings of ‘samfundssind’ or community feeling, which in turn breeds trust. So be a joiner: find an online knitting group, offer to help in your neighborhood, and finding ways to become part of a network can all help you get more community-minded and increase your happiness.

Mädchen in gelber Jacke läut im Sonnernuntergang durch Rebild Bakken, Dänemark
Photo: Daniel Villadsen
Figure out what the Danish word Hygge is and how to hygge
Photo: @my.little.lifestory

Where to get a happiness boost in Denmark

It’s not just Danish lifestyle that makes people happier. Our city planning and design also has happiness at its heart. Take a look at the following joyful features:

Konditaget Lüders

This bright red playground and outdoor fitness park is in an unlikely place on the roof of one of the buildings in Copenhagen’s newest Nordhavn district, with ocean views and trampolines to enjoy.

The Troll Trail

If you go down to the woods today, you’ll find more than 10 trolls ready to surprise you. It’s all part of artist Thomas Dambo’s drive to get people exploring the lesser-visited parts of Denmark.

The Infinite Bridge

This circular bridge near Aarhus is a bridge to nowhere. The only reason to visit is to enjoy the walk, soak in the sea views and enjoy the fresh air. It’s not pointless if your aim is to increase your happiness!

Your Rainbow Panorama

Also in Aarhus, Olafur Eliasson’s Your Rainbow Panorama, set at the top of the ARoS modern art gallery, has views all over the city and allows you to walk inside a rainbow.

The Wave in Vejle

Want to ride a wave of happiness? How about live in one! In Vejle, the Wave is an apartment block with a difference – it loops up and down next to the fjord and is just another example of joyful living and design from Denmark.

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