There are many reasons for the unbridled happiness in Scandinavia that I mentioned in Part 1. It is trendy to point to hygge (Hoo-gah) as an easy answer to why Danes, for example, are all so damn happy.
Although there is truth to this (from one who has experienced it first-hand, hygge is great and just about everyone should chill-out a little more and eat more chocolate with friends if they want to be happier), it is more complicated than hygge.
Wealth Not the Goal in Denmark
If you dig deeper and continue with the example of Denmark, you start to find ingrained social reasons. Denmark is not a winner takes all system like the US, and you might not pursue the “American Dream” there in the way it is portrayed in the States. But there is still ample opportunity to be happy, even though it is more difficult to become fabulously wealthy. Without going into a huge explanation, it suffices to say that in Denmark the rungs of the social ladder are closer together. This article offers a good introduction to what I am talking about.
You see, in Scandinavia, there is a broad social safety net including more than ample healthcare coverage for every citizen. Just removing the stress of dealing with the byzantine healthcare system in the US and the worry of a costly health problem leading to bankruptcy automatically makes citizens much happier. This is palpable all over Scandinavia. People do not have many of the concerns here that consume people in the United States.
Education in Scandinavia vs. the United States
Then, there is the Scandinavian approach to education. The US continues to backslide and many teachers I know back home either dislike their jobs or have left the profession. While there are constant cutbacks to education in the arts, the US continues to slip in comparison to other industrialized nations. While the US continues to invest heavily in standardized testing and other ways to measure students performances, there is a drastically different approach in Scandinavia. There has also is a big push, led by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, most recently, to privatize education in the US.
There are interesting rankings of countries based on a variety of categories. One such as reported by US News lists the rankings of quality of life. Sweden is number 3 for the 2018 report. Also, according to a report on CNBC News, the top four countries to raise children in order are: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, and Finland.
Finland’s Respect for Teachers
In Finland, for example, where the education is best in the world. There is certainly a correlation between these values and the high degree of happiness. While the best and brightest in the US seek jobs in law, finance, and other professions with high monetary rewards, the most gifted Finnish scholars tend to go into education. Therefore, you have the smartest people shaping the minds of the future.
This is not to say that so many of our US teachers are not “the brightest” by any means. There are certainly many with high capabilities. But the mantra in America is “those that can’t do it, teach.” Our pay scales for teachers do not compensate them in a way that reflects the best teacher for their massive contributions to the country either.
Unlike the US where everything is reduced to competition, Finland emphasizes cooperation. Amazingly, there is no accountability required for these teachers and no standardized testing. The only test in Finland is the National Matriculation Exam which is not required.
Responsibility Takes Care of Accountability
But how are people held accountable? The Ministry of Education tracks samples of students throughout the system.
As Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education said, “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish… Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”
I could go on and on about what separates Finland and other Scandinavian countries from the United States when it comes to education as it contributes to happier, healthier, and more prosperous societies. But the bottom line is not only is education approached with a more thorough treatment, but it is also much more relaxed. In the United States, it is clear that education is designed from the matrix for creating factory workers with the order and bells ringing to move to the next classroom (or station) about every forty minutes.
In Finland, the work is in fifteen to twenty-minute intervals with plenty of time to relax, stretch, get fresh air, and be in nature. Then, you take away the anxiety of constant studying for exams and you don’t have kids just cramming their heads with information to be regurgitated later. The system in the US is actually designed to measure teacher progress and curriculum, scope, and sequence are compromised by state and national testing schedules, not students’ optimal individual learning schedules.
Not Just Hygge
The result is that you can see that the kids are happier. Although I have never been to Finland, Denmark and Sweden both have similarly fine education systems, and whenever I see kids out of class for field trips or at the library, they seem happy and filled with wonderment. Then they grow up to become interesting and successful adults. So, the building block of happiness in the region starts early with a human education that is not just geared to preparing young people to join the working world; it helps shape them into confident adults, preparing them for all aspects of life.