The dictatorship of happiness: how the Danes learned to believe that they are satisfied with life

Despite its harsh climate, Denmark regularly ranks as the happiest country in the world. The authorities of the kingdom are trying for the benefit of citizens, and they have to comply …

The dictatorship of happiness: how the Danes learned to think that they are satisfied with life

“Fill your house happiness!” commands an advertisement for a souvenir shop on Ostergade Street (Østergade)in Copenhagen. Red plastic bobbleheads on springs smile from the shop windows. Since the late 1960s, the company has been selling “optimists” for all occasions. There are also Christmas ones, and wedding ones, and in the colors of the national flag, and simple wooden ones. “The mission of an optimist is to bring joy and bring a smile to every face,” says the company’s website. The whole business is built on the sale of these figurines.

– Our optimist gives joy to those who need it most, – says Gustav, a smiling dummy seller. – You can put it on your desk, bring it to a friend to the hospital, to present to someone on their birthday. And everyone will be happy.

Gustav gently pushes the toy with his finger, demonstrating its amusing possibilities, and a whole row of doodles begin to jiggle on their springs, smiling with painted mouths.

The next store recommends me to buy a pair of thick tall candles in glass glasses. On the package it says Lykke  – “happiness” in Danish. Boxes with scented candles and diffusers, blankets, books, dishes – everything is sold under the brand of happiness.

The store is full of little things for home and comfort. Inconspicuous colors, pleasant textures of fabrics, unobtrusive smells. There is a section with such goods in any Danish supermarket or hardware store. Even on the label of warm knitted socks I read: lykkesokker – “socks that make you happy.” If the soul is bad, then happiness in the form of a candle or socks can be bought at the nearest store.

— These candles are very hyggeligt, that is, creating comfort, – the sales assistant, whose name is Olaf, interrupts my thoughts. – Hygge – a popular Danish word. It means an atmosphere of comfort and happiness. What you experience when you light candles and wrap yourself in a soft blanket.


Hygge is a popular Danish word. It means an atmosphere of comfort and happiness

The next store in Estergade sells designer furniture and utensils. Shoppers are greeted by artichoke chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, rows of ergonomic chairs, and high-quality textiles. In the 1930s, Danish design became a state program to improve the quality of life.

The government invested in furniture studios and factories to create an environment that creates a happy citizen. Even school furniture is the development of famous designers. The right chair makes the person who sits on it happy.

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