The Secret to Happiness

Plainly, a lot of people these days are interested in happiness — how to get happy, why some people are happier than others, etc. For example, there’s Dan Gilbert’s best-seller Stumbling on Happiness and, currently at No. 1 on the N.Y. Times‘s list of most e-mailed articles, a piece by Dan Max about university happiness studies.

Among the most intriguing happiness theories I’ve come across is this one, put forth in a recent issue of BMJ. It asserts that the citizens of Denmark are happier than their European counterparts, even though they rank high in the kind of things that are typically affiliated with a low happiness rank, like bad weather, bad food, and high alcohol consumption.

So what’s their secret?

Low expectations. “It’s a David and Goliath thing,” says Kaare Christensen, one of the study’s authors, in a brief article in today’s N.Y. Times. “If you’re a big guy, you expect to be on the top all the time and you’re disappointed when things don’t go well. But when you’re down at the bottom like us, you hang on, you don’t expect much, and once in a while you win, and it’s that much better.”

This theory makes sense to me, just as it makes sense that people who earn a few thousand dollars more than their colleagues say they are happier than if they were earning more money but less than their colleagues. As with many things in life, relative happiness may be far more important, or at least measurable, than absolute happiness.

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  1. egretman says:

    The secret to happiness? You mean besides an Ivy League education?

    I’d say a Freakonomics sequel. How about it? One coming soon?

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  2. egretman says:

    The secret to happiness? You mean besides an Ivy League education?

    I’d say a Freakonomics sequel. How about it? One coming soon?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  3. prosa says:

    Denmark’s also noted for having a well-functioning economy. In particular, it is easier for employers to lay off unneeded workers than it is in most other European countries, which reduces the hiring disincentives found elsewhere and helps keep the unemployment rate low; on other hand, unemployment compensation is much more generous than in the easy-layoffs United States and is carefully aimed at training the unemployed for high-demand occupations. On a more general basis, taxes are relatively high but people get a lot for their money, the national and local governments being known for efficiency and lack of corruption.

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  4. prosa says:

    Denmark’s also noted for having a well-functioning economy. In particular, it is easier for employers to lay off unneeded workers than it is in most other European countries, which reduces the hiring disincentives found elsewhere and helps keep the unemployment rate low; on other hand, unemployment compensation is much more generous than in the easy-layoffs United States and is carefully aimed at training the unemployed for high-demand occupations. On a more general basis, taxes are relatively high but people get a lot for their money, the national and local governments being known for efficiency and lack of corruption.

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  5. Ana C. says:

    The Danes don’t think they are small like David! What happens is that they have succeeded to make Denmark one of the best functioning societies in the world and they are hyper-proud of that. Besides, the summer in Denmark is fantastic!

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  6. Ana C. says:

    The Danes don’t think they are small like David! What happens is that they have succeeded to make Denmark one of the best functioning societies in the world and they are hyper-proud of that. Besides, the summer in Denmark is fantastic!

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  7. Given the answerss Levitt been able to provide on some other things, maybe he should turn from the trivial and tease some sort of data into giving us the secret of happiness.

    It would make for a great selling book.

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  8. Given the answerss Levitt been able to provide on some other things, maybe he should turn from the trivial and tease some sort of data into giving us the secret of happiness.

    It would make for a great selling book.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0