Af Emilia van Hauen, sociolog og foredragsholder
Denmark is known as the happiest country in the world. Several surveys show us that. Year after year. That might make us a good example of how to live the good life.
So what makes us the happiest people in the world?
And are we prepared for the future to stay the happiest people on earth?
Or would it actually be more noble to ask, what we can offer the world, to make all countries the happiest countries ever?
Before I go on with the facts, I will invite you to participate in a small exercise. In a moment I will ask you to please stand up and find yourself a partner. When you have found a partner, you grab each others hands and stand as if you were going to arm-wrestle in the air. When you are ready, I will tell you what more to do. Please find your partner now!
Ok? Now: Your job is to get your own hand down like this, as many times as possible, until I say stop!
Thanks! All right. So – how many of you exceeded 20? Great. Will one of you please show us how you did it?
This, ladies and gentlemen is the happy life – and the future way of cooperating.
First: The good life is to work together with life, instead of fighting back every time life does not go in your direction. Use the powers around you, to fulfil a common vision.
Second: This is also the future way of co-operating – namely co-creation! Most of us are raised to pursue our own agenda to be happy. So we learn to fight, for our goal. That is good. It has moved the world forward. But as we progress and develop our societies, we are no longer fighting for survival. Instead we want social evolution. To make more people happy.
This happens when we can agree on a common vision. And this small exercise shows us, how it's done! We reach a higher goal, its more fun – and it takes a lot less effort!
Creating together is what is asked of us in the future to move humanity forward!
Is this what we Danes have done? In a way. We have a special core value, that has made us the happiest people on earth. And this value is ...
TRUST! And I would like to share a story from my own life – that concerns trust.
My mother comes from Spain. She is the bride in the picture to the left. Her father was a skilled businessman, and her mother was a beautiful lady from a good family. He was very careful with money, and she was a sensual and indulgent woman, so they didn't exactly share values in this aspect of life. One evening on their honeymoon she ordered a chateau Briand for dinner – the most expensive course on the menu – very much to his dissatisfaction. But she convinced him that they could be a bit extravagant on this special occasion. Everything was fine. Until the disaster happened: She could not eat it all of the meat!
I'm told, that this small incident came to define their marriage. He never really trusted her again when it came to money - and thus he micromanaged her all the way. She – on the other hand – never really dared to be as open and passionate as before. Sad! For both of them!
Of course they did not have a splendid marriage. But I'm sure they could have, if only they had learned from each other and embraced each other's differences. And Mom, thanks for letting me share this story today!
Maybe because of this, my mother decided to go along with differences and married a strange guy from far up North, with whom she had three children. My Dad is the guy on the right side together with his mom. As the picture shows you, I grew up in the middle of a passionate Latin culture and a more cool and calm Nordic culture , and I'm pretty sure, that because of that, I became a sociologist that analyzes culture in order to understand people. In the country where trust is the most important issue.
What makes a good life? Trust! Embracing diversity. Creativity. Love. And not believing in the perfect life – but instead in the living and often chaotic life!
The perfect life, where everything lives up to the highest expectations – from the right, creative, self assuring job to a marriage that offers both deep love and wild sex – every day! – becomes the minimum. And ensures that every one of us become a fiasco. What else? The perfect life is a fata morgana, which can never be reached. The only way to live a perfect life is to understand, that the perfect life is simply a dynamic life.
Or in other words: To live a happy life is to do exactly what my grandparents should have done, or what my mom actually did: Start trusting life itself and embrace diversity.
Have we done that, us Danes? Let's look at our values and their negative consequences:
We worship equality – and have one of the most equal societies in the world. We take good care of the weakest people - and pay so damn high taxes! This also gives us anti-hierarchical management models that again give us strategic business benefits, because the good ideas flow freely in the organization. And instead of using our resources to control, we use them to create. Again – trust is an issue here!
The equality is also found within the genders, as women have equal rights and we have very good family support systems, e.g. a year of maternity leave.
On the other hand we simply cannot tolerate, when someone thinks he is worth more than you! This has even its own concept called the Jante law, the first commandment of which is: Don't think you are worth anything! And that leads us to the downside of equality – mediocrity!
Standing out has never really been a virtue in Denmark, and we have almost made mediocrity a kind of advantage in our national understanding. Most likely because we simply had to, as we in 1864 lost a great deal of our country to the Germans, and we had to figure out what kind of value we had as a nation. We became introvert. This is however changing, and we experience a new generation that wants to be outstanding – and who has the talent and the motive power to actually do so.
We also have a strong sense of community. We are the country with most societies, especially voluntary societies – and we simply love it! We can almost not gather together without making a formal society with rules and chairman and membership and so on. This ties us very much together almost as a modern tribe. And makes us very homogeneous. Much too homogeneous!
You need the conflict, the differences to make a creative tension, so the fluctuation between different ideas, ideals, norms, values and behavior fertilize each other in order to develop society.
Finally, we Danes think that we are very liberal minded. We like to say, that we practice an enlightened form of tolerance, especially when it comes to sexual lifestyles and personal moral and ethics. It is no coincidence that it was in Denmark that porn was released first in the world in 1969, and that homosexuals could obtain a legally binding partnership 20 years later. We guard our freedom of speech very much, which got us into trouble in 2005, when the Danish newspaper Jyllandsposten printed the satiric drawings of the prophet Muhammed. On this account we received both damnations and admiration from people all over the world. We have the belief, that no one – absolute no one – should tell us what to do!
The downside of this liberal mindedness is indifference. We might be the happiest people, but we are certainly not the most passionate people on earth! Our patience has a negative side to it, as we might accept bad conditions for much too long, for fear of conflicts. For instance we have a high rate of suicide, and we drink too much – especially young people – and this happens also, because we have a fear of interfering in other people's personal lives. We have the state to do so – and that has made us one of the most legally regulated countries in the world.
So equality, community and liberal mindedness in combination with trust gives the happiest society in the world. Please feel free to be inspired by that. And try to disregard our mediocrity, homogeneous and the indifference now you're working with it! We Danes are not perfect either, so we need to keep on developing too!
Are we Danes cut out for the future? Yes! And I will present a matrix to you that explains why.
About 5 years ago I sensed, that there was a kind of vacuum in the zeitgeist. It felt like we were giving a bit up on this massive focus we have had on individualism and autonomy since the 80'ies, and after having researched for a longer period of time, it became clear to me that communities are coming back in new forms. It simply started to be cool to be social. Again! How many of you have joined some kind of network? See – ten years ago the picture would have been different!
But that was not all. It also became very clear, that one of the most important capacities today is to be creative. To be an independent thinker and creator.
In order to understand our time, and the forces that are working around us, I made a matrix.
One of the axis is of course stretched between Autonomy and Community, as you can see on the matrix. The other axis tells us about the intention in our doing; are we reproductive of societies norms and values, or are we productive, i.e. creative?
How many of you pay taxes? Such a stupid question in Denmark. Everybody pays taxes in this country. And we are proud to do so. Most of us are reproductive of our society's systems – in order to stabilize it.
Today – however – we experience a need for many more people to be creative and productive themselves – and not just wait for the elite to produce a new agenda.
These two axis offers 4 kinds of different lifeforms.
EgoParty is is about status, prestige, autonomy and personal needs. The number one in women's tennis in the world is the Dane Caroline Wozniacki and no doubt, that she is an egoparty –and that is good because though she pursues her own agenda, she inspires thousands and thousands by her results. EgoParty has been a necessary lifeform to grow society as it has released a lot of creative power in the world.
Guruism is about becoming enlightened through others and seeking a community that wants the same as you. The Danish CEO and owner Christian Stadil is a good example of a business man that has moved in new directions and has made an inspiring and cutting edge company with sportsclothes, Hummel, by e.g. practicing Buddhist philosophy in his work – and he has huge success!
As we in the western world see these two lifeforms decrease, we see them arise in countries like China, Brazil, India and Russia. And the west is now instead turning to adult-cool and co-creation as the 2 new lifeforms.
Since the 50'es youth has been one of the most important cool-factors, while being a grown-up nearly was a punishment. This is however also changing. And the signs are everywhere.
We speak about primetime women, tv-series as MadMen, Sex and the City, Desperate Housewives is about adult life, and more and more fashion- and businessmagazines have themes about this new trend. We now seek to embrace experience and responsibility and breed a whole new kind of grown-up lifestyle, that contains the best from both the youths open minded, dynamic way of living and the adult way of taking responsibility – for many more than just yourself
The Danish company The Specialists is a shining example on Adult-Cool. Thorkil Sonne has a son, that is autistic, and to help his son to get a good job and have a good life when he grew up, he started a company that makes use of their special skills with numbers. They made autism an asset – and is also a good example of why the Danes are very much in front of social innovation.
And then we have the last lifeform: co-creation. This is without a doubt the most important lifeform for the future. And it will be paramount to embrace this kind of lifeform, if you want to survive as a company. It is all about creating – not just co-operating – with others. And accepting and nurse the creative individual minds and understand how you make them work and develop together.
The Danish green think tank Concito is a inspiring example of how this is done. It is formed by businesspeople (money), scientists (knowledge) but also NGO's and oil companies – to parts that would normally waging war, is now working together to lower the amount of CO2 in Denmark.
We Danes are certainly ready for the future, as we have all the right factors with us to be co-creatives. We are already a unique combination of independence and liberal thinking on one side, and institutionalization and community on the other. The best possible mix for co-creation. Now we just need to keep on developing our society by adding more passion and diversity to it.
In October this year I visited Ghana for the humanitarian organization CARE Denmark and here I met Tachira – who was accused of being a witch. In Ghana this is sadly rather common, especially for older women. Tachira lived in a so called witch-village under the protection of a chief.
She came here after almost being beaten to death by her late husband's brother, who banished her as she wouldn't marry him and give him her fortune. Today Tachira lives a good life with the help of CARE and the other women. And they are changing the culture in Ghana. Just by living their lives, they provoke a change of mindset and contribute to the evolution of a whole country. And that is what I want you to do too. Live your life to change the world.
The truth is that most of us have witches of our own. We tend to banish our talent, our dreams, and we are often the harshest critics of ourselves. And in doing so, we withhold our original contribution to mankind. This is a loss – for everybody. And that is why I would ask all of you here to consider this:
What is your purpose in life? How will you create evolution? Please take a moment to think about that.
Thank you for your attention!