I’m pretty sure that we’re not the only ones who are interested in Danish culture – today we’re picking apart Danish welfare. We want to delve a little deeper into Danish lifestyle and pick up where we left off with our recent article about three things to take away from the Danish.
Basically, I read a book and to give you a bit of background on this series of articles; it changed my perception about the Danes. And now I firmly believe that the addition of a couple of Danish traits could make you happier and ultimately a more well-rounded human. This time around we’re looking at the Danish state more generally and how they lead from the top down.
I want to put the Danish under the microscope and see what’s revealed. Fortunately for me, I have a Danish friend and he doesn’t mind me asking questions about living in Denmark and what it means to be Danish. Well, I’m assuming he doesn’t.
Some background on the Danish welfare system
I’ll start the journey off with a bit of context and the Dane’s answer to one of the areas of our live’s that causes us to worry the most.
If you’ve just lost your job but you live in Copenhagen – fear not. You’ll still receive an unemployment benefit of 10,500 krone (£1,246) each month after tax for up to two years. This means that losing your job isn’t as scary as it may be across the channel in the UK. Here, we’re the walking worried. We’re the walking worried who know that if their company are downsizing and our name’s up then we won’t be able to pay for our mortgages or our endless brunches without finding another job pronto.
What does it mean to the Danes? It means they’re generally happier and don’t need to worry if they lose their job – it’s covered.
We pay less tax and this means we have more surplus income to play with but if things go pear shaped the state isn’t here to really have our back’s. What you could do is stick a bit of that surplus income into your own insurance policy and that way if things go south, you’re covered.
We don’t have to be Danish to think Danish
I don’t want to depress you any further but it’s important to highlight what else is covered by the state – as a Dane you also know that you’re part of a national system that provides free healthcare, education for absolutely everyone, job training, subsidised childcare, a fabulous pension system, fuel subsidies and rent allowances for the elderly.
It’s not all pastries and happiness though. There are high taxes. This isn’t the time to talk about tax rates but the Danish pay between 30% and 51% tax depending on income. They have a welfare system that every person feels the benefit of and that’s the pertinent point. Politics you can feel.
This welfare system encourages people to train and learn. Education is a huge part of Danish welfare and culture and it also helps that education at any level is free for all ages and once you’re over 18 you also can get your hands on a tidy bursary too. If you live on your own you can receive 5,839 krone a month (£693) and if you live with parents you receive around half that.
The point here is, happiness is drawn from removing stress and worry. Spending lots of money makes us worry, having a safety net provides freedom so you can spend more of your time in the moment with friends and family – worry free.
Our often capitalist nature often means that we feel more money would make us happier. If anything, what this teaches us is that less things to worry about and a more equal society make people happier. The things we stress about or get us down tend to be directly related in our search to keep up with Jones’ and maintain a lifestyle that we perceive to highlight the fact we’re doing well and that’s all bullshit.
We’re alive, we’re breathing. We’re doing well.
I think it’s interesting to just take hold of the idea for a second. Think about what it would be like to go to work tomorrow or this week knowing that if it all went south and you lost your job it wouldn’t be the end of the world. The mortgage will still be paid and they’ll be a meal on the table whilst you search for something new. Money should make you free not enslave you to a lifestyle.
“We don’t have steak every night, but we’re okay!”
To illustrate this point, I’m going to lean on my trusty friend data. In other areas of the world the gap between the wealthy and everyone else is widening but in Denmark it stays constant. On average the top 20% of Danes earn about four times as much as the bottom 20%. This doubles when you look at the United States.
The idea of a more level playing field in Denmark is deeply rooted in the culture of the nation. Members of the Royal Family are often seen on their bikes chaperoning their children to a public day care centre. Last winter Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was seen shovelling snow outside her home in Copenhagen and if you turn up to any sports club or social club everyone will be accepted irrelevant of your place in society. In Denmark it’s cool to be normal.
Ostentatious wealth in Denmark is frowned upon and the whole notion of it is considered a little embarrassing – this may have been what impacted the Danish welfare system.
To follow the law of Jante, you essentially don’t really ever think too much of yourself or think you’re too important and this law flows through the centre of Danish culture. It affects the way situations are approached and to always take a step back and check you’re not being too forthcoming or too self-involved.
It allows you to manage your inner self and this minimalist, stoic approach could be one of the reasons so many people are now looking to the Danes for inspiration. As the Western world crumbles into a place of reality TV, smartphone obsession and mass consumption it would be useful to sometimes check in and see whether any of it really matters and enriches life. If it doesn’t – well it might be time to make a few changes.
However, this total worry free view on life is can inherently make you less ambitious within your career, so I’m told. You know how much any pay rise will go to the state and it’s part of the culture to not try to be anything you’re not so it’s much easier to become happy with the lot you’ve got.
This means that more time is spent socialising, relaxing and having fun with friends or family rather than around the office desk.
When you add less stress and more time spent with loved ones, it starts to seem like a compelling argument to see where changes could be introduced in our own lives. Look into Danish welfare and lifestyle a little deeper and see what you find.