Denmark = The PERFECT Society?

Emma Oliver – Period 7

Happiness seems so simple and common; we all know how to “be happy”, right?  Wrong.  As we may think we are happy and will remain happy, happiness is not as easily attained and seized as we believe.  Societies all throughout our world today constantly complicate the idea of happiness by attempting to merge it with a strong and flourishing economy.  Nations put their focus and aim towards creating a thriving and financially successful economy while also creating a happy community of people who live there.  Is this goal irrational and impossible?  Not at all, and with the help of Aristotle, the possibility of a fortunate society as well as a satisfied and happy community can seem a little bit more achievable.  In a society where happiness and economics both exist, there will need to be one priority that is above and more important than the other in order to sustain a healthy society.  In an Aristotelian view of society, happiness is always first in priority.  Happiness typically is defined as pleasure, honor, fame, or joy, while economics is defined by things like money, wealth, and government.  Of course these two concepts seem very different, but Aristotle, a Greek philosopher and scientist, helps us understand why this intended society is possible.  Aristotle teaches that “wealth evidently is not the good of which we are in search of… so we might rather take pleasure and virtue or excellence to be ends than wealth… but it seems that not even they are the end”.[1]  He claims that “the good is the final end, and happiness is this”.[2]  Also, Aristotle tells us that happiness, the end goal, is attainable for all, but only if the individual works and benefits from the polis, also known as the state.[3] Therefore, happiness can be achieved by searching for what is good through the active individual and with help from the state, and in Denmark, their balance of happiness and economics seems to be just right.

According to the World Happiness Report, a landmark survey of the state of global happiness, Denmark was crowned the happiest nation on Earth in 2013, with an average life satisfaction score of 7.69 out of 10.[4]  What constitutes them for being the happiest country in the world are things along the lines of a large Gross Domestic Product per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth, and a lack of corruption in leadership.[5]  However, there were also three major influences that which individual citizens developed which made them the happiest of all.  Denmark’s citizens focused the bulk of their time on a sense of “social support, freedom to make life choices, and a culture of generosity”.[6]  According to the Christian Bjornskov, the Professor of Economics from Aarhus Business School, Denmark displays this culture of generosity by “[spending] our money differently here.  We don’t buy big houses or big cars; we like to spend our money on socializing with others.”[7]  In today’s world, money and power often appear to be more important to societies rather than the welfare of the citizens in the society, but in Denmark, their policy is designed based on “what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being”.[8]  This policy is closely related to the Aristotelian view of the function of man.

Aristotle claims that “the function of man is exercise of his vital faculties [or soul] in obedience with reason” and to “take account of parents, children, wife, and, in short, friends and fellow-citizens generally, since man is naturally a social being”.[9]  Denmark demonstrates this ideal in many ways.  For example, in Denmark, “more than 40 percent of all Danes do voluntary work in cultural and sports associations, NGOs, social organizations, political organizations, etc.”.[10]  The Danes feel a civic duty and a responsibility to one another, and not only does this help them achieve true happiness which is final and self-sufficing, but also, the economic value of the unpaid work they are doing equals “DKK 35.3 billion and represents 9.6 percent of their GDP as a nation”.[11]  Although wealth in not the final good in which Aristotle claims, wealth is important because Denmark needs a stable economy in order to provide the basic necessities for its citizens.  In addition, Denmark feels the need to take care of their environment as well.  In Copenhagen, Denmark’s largest and most populated city, half of commuting happens by bike.[12]  While avoiding air pollution, accidents, and wear on infrastructure, these bikers also allowed for taxpayers to save a little over $34 million each year.[13]  Overall, as Denmark focuses on collective responsibility and belonging, they utilize the Aristotelian view of achieving happiness by “[exercising] their faculties” and virtue for the good and well-being of their society.[14]  By the individuals taking care of their fellow citizens and their environment, they also allow the state to acquire more wealth, or more pleasure. Therefore, not only does Denmark achieve true happiness, but also, the state gains the pleasure of wealth and uses this wealth to offer more programs and benefits for their citizens.

As well as each individual’s purpose is to act in accordance with reason and virtue, the “political society exists for the sake of noble actions” and contributes to society in ways that lead to a happy and honorable life.[15]  Denmark uses this Aristotelian ideal by having a state which does not seem to judge its citizens lives in any form or fashion.  The Danish state allows for its citizens to choose the kind of life they want to live, which aids in the overall satisfaction of people living there.  Aristotle suggests that the state is the “union of families and villages” and its end is the “good life”.[16]  Denmark shifts this ideal to focus on their child care and health care.  With child care, for example, while an American women would be offered an average maternal leave of 10.3 weeks, Danish families are offered a total of 52 weeks of parental leave.[17]  They receive 18 weeks of maternal leave, 2 weeks of paternal leave at up to 100 percent salary, and the rest of the paid time is up to the family to use at their discretion.[18]  Denmark continues this support for the family and the children by later giving free or low-cost child care.  Similarly, the state provides health care as a basic civil right and a source of social support. According to a 2012 survey of family medicine in the country, Danish people meet with their primary care physician an average of nearly seven times a year.[19]  Due to this large necessity of medical care, the state has created a gatekeeping system that allows Danes to get treatment at the lowest effective care level with a continuous availability of care provided by a family doctor.[20]  Government spending on children and the elderly is higher than any other country in the world per capita.[21]  This state relates to Aristotle’s view of a state because in Denmark there seems to be “family connections, brotherhoods, common sacrifices, and amusements which draw [these] men together” and is a community who live together in friendship.[22]  As the state continues to provide for its citizens’ necessities without hesitation, citizens feel a sense of security and confidence in their nation, which allows the entire nation to become united and self-sufficing.

Ultimately, happiness is a state of mind, which each individual has some direct control over, and the people of Denmark use this control to positively shape their nation for the good of all its citizens.  In today’s world, people categorize and define happiness as earning the most money, having the most friends, receiving good grades, getting a ton of presents for Christmas, but true, honest happiness is so much more than any material good or petty pleasure.  True happiness seems rare.  However, Denmark’s definition of happiness consists of trust and respect for each and every citizen in their nation, which allows them to be the happiest nation on Earth.  Their perspective on happiness should be motivation for all of the nations of the world.  According to Aristotle, true happiness cannot be achieved after one good deed during your life, but achieved after you have lived a full and charitable life for the sake of your community.[23]  Achieving happiness may seem complicated, but all you need is a society with each individual living life in accordance with reason and the contemplative life and the state providing benefits for a life of free choice for the common good.  With these two ingredients, achieving happiness does in fact become simple and life-fulfilling.

[1] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.” In How to Find Happiness without a Free Lunch. ed. Bernardo Aparicio. Accessed 2015.

[2] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.”

[3] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.”

[4] “Happiest in the World.” Why the Danes Are the Happiest People in the World -The Official Website of Denmark. 2013. Accessed December 8, 2015.

[5] Melnick, Meredith. “Denmark Is Considered The Happiest Country. You’ll Never Guess Why.” The Huffington Post. November 6, 2013. Accessed December 8, 2015.

[6] Melnick, Meredith.

[7] “Happiest in the World.”

[8] “Happiest in the World.”

[9] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.”

[10] Melnick, Meredith.

[11] Melnick, Meredith.

[12] “Happiest People in the World!?” VisitDenmark. 2013. Accessed December 8, 2015.

[13] Melnick, Meredith.

[14] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.”

[15] Aristotle. “The Politics.” In How to Find Happiness without a Free Lunch. ed. Bernardo Aparicio. Accessed 2015.

[16] Aristotle. “The Politics.”

[17] Melnick, Meredith.

[18] Melnick, Meredith.

[19] Melnick, Meredith.

[20] “Happiest People in the World!?”

[21] “Happiest People in the World!?”

[22] Aristotle. “The Politics.”

[23] Aristotle. “The Nicomachean Ethics.”

[24] Gracey, Soni. “A-Happy-Denmark-kid.” Happy Denmark Child. November 8, 2014. Accessed December 8, 2015.

 

 

 

 

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