These 10 rules from the 1930s might explain why Danish people are so happy

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Hayley Spencer
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Denmark may have just have relinquished the title of world’s happiest country to Iceland, but it’s an accolade that’s been regularly awarded to the small Nordic nation since the 1970s.

And while by now we’ve all heard of hygge (and probably tried to achieve it buying candles in IKEA) and read about the country’s generous paternity rights, shorter working hours and established values of equality in the home with envy, it’s clear there is something else at play which ensures the Danes’ sense of contentment compared to our own.

In a recent blog for Psych Central, Lindsay Dupuis, a Canadian therapist working in Copenhagen, has pointed to a fictional concept called Jante Law which she thinks is to thank for the Danes’ happiness. The rules are defined in a satirical book called A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, which was published back in the 1930s. They suggest that people should be modest, and find pleasure in the ordinary and everyday.

  1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
  2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  8. You’re not to laugh at us.
  9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

The concept is based on an imagined mindset shared by residents in the protagonist’s fictional hometown of Jante. But Dupuis’ blog notes how accurate the code of conduct has remained to modern culture – even if Danes hate to acknowledge it.

Dupuis suggests that it remains relevant due to the fact that low expectations help to boost happiness. By following these rules she suggests: “You’ll probably set your sights on living a very average life. With such a mentality, you’re likely to be quite content when life hands you very average things.

“On the other hand, if life happens to hand you something above and beyond average, you’ll likely feel pleasantly surprised, and in most cases, pretty darn happy.”

Indeed, Denmark-based British journalist Helen Russell told Stylist that by living in the country the past four years, she has “learned to appreciate the little things.

“I’ve picked up lessons for living Danishly that I’ll take with me, wherever I end up calling home,” she says.

Photos: iStock / Helen Russell