Why the Danish Mermaid is happier than the Merlion

Why the Danish Mermaid is happier than the Merlion
NATIONAL ICONS: (Left) The Little Mermaid statue in Copenhagen, Denmark. (Right) Singapore's Merlion at Merlion Park.

SINGAPORE - Earlier this month, the World Happiness Report once again ranked cold and unspectacular Denmark the happiest nation in the world. Singapore is in 30th place, though it can boast to be the happiest in Asia (excluding the Middle East).

The standard of living in both countries is high. Singapore is 4th in the world in GDP per capita. Denmark is 16th. Singapore has about 5.3 million inhabitants, slightly less than the 5.6 million Danes.

But when you look at the level of income inequality, Denmark's is among the lowest in the world and Singapore's one of the highest among the advanced economies.

In my journeys to the land of Lego, the Ugly Duckling, the Little Mermaid and "probably the best beer in the world", I have observed some unique traits that may indicate what makes the Danes happy.


Danes tend to focus on what they have rather than what they don't have. They don't expect to get happier by buying a bigger house or the latest Louis Vuitton. They are happy with their small homes and bikes.

Spending money and time with people they care about and creating rich memories are more important to Danes.

An egalitarian society (Janteloven)

Danes believe in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities. The term Janteloven means "You are not better than me (so be humble and don't show off)".

From the bus driver to the corporate CEO, everyone takes pride in their work and does not feel inferior.

Practising Janteloven releases the pressure to acquire more and more materialistic symbols of success.

Danes do not have "Tiger moms" who push their kids to choose professions that seem more respectable. This allows people to make their passion in life their profession regardless of how well it pays.

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