Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Dream Small

On Sunday night, 60 Minutes ran a segment about why Denmark “consistently beats the rest of the world in the happiness stakes.” Here’s University of Southern Denmark researcher Kaare Christiansen in an exchange with Morley Safer:

CHRISTIANSEN: What we basically figured out that, although the Danes were very happy with their life, when we looked at their expectations, they were pretty modest.

SAFER: So, by having low expectations, you’re rarely disappointed.

CHRISTIANSEN: Exactly.

And in starving you’ll find little reason to complain about the food. The piece was an undisguised refutation of American ideals and pursuits. Try this Safer tidbit:

SAFER: History may also play a role in [Denmark’s] culture of low expectations. If you go to the government’s own web site, it proudly proclaims: ‘The present configuration of the country is the result of 400 years of forced relinquishments of land, surrenders, and lost battles.’ Could it be that the true secret of happiness is a swift kick in the pants or a large dose of humiliation? Do you think there’s some kind of inverse relationship between the more powerful you are, the more unhappy you are, and the weaker you are, the happier you are?

If the answer is “yes,” the Danes should be beaming right now. The happiest country in the world is in the throes of its seventh night of Muslim riots over the reprinting of the infamous Muhammed cartoons. Which you wouldn’t be able to glean from this:

SAFER: [Danish newspaper columnist Sebastian Dorset] says that contentment may stem from the fact that Denmark is almost totally homogenous, there’s no large disparities of wealth, and has had very little national turmoil for more than a half century.

After confirming that Harvard happiness expert Tal Ben-Shahar condemns the American way of life, Safer goes on to praise the Denmark cradle-to-grave benefits system that anticipates and satisfies its citizens’ every conceivable need, and then disparages Americans as carriers of the “bacterium” of “wanting it all.” For any viewer who missed the point, the piece closes with this:

SAFER: What would you advise Americans to do?

DANISH STUDENT: I have an advice. Don’t… don’t depend too much on the American dream. Yeah, I think you might get disappointed.

And I too have “an advice,” for Denmark. There are things more valuable than averaged happiness: freedom, industry, imagination, and self-determination for starters. Don’t venture too far without them. I think you might get disappointed.


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