In 2013, the Princeton Review ranked Claremont McKenna College the happiest college in the nation and the World Happiness Report ranked Denmark the happiest country in the world. Besides these similar distinctions, do the two places have anything in common?
How alike are sunny Claremont and cloudy Copenhagen?
Danes generally live personally satisfying lives because of
their high quality of life. With a whopping average 50 percent income tax, the
government reciprocates sound social security to its citizens, free healthcare
and education and various stipends throughout stages of schooling and
parenting. Socially, the nation has made amazing strides in gender and LGBTQ
equality. In the workplace, there is a high level of autonomy and flexibility,
allowing for individuals to foster their personal relationships.
When asked about their number one happiness ranking, Danes
often say ‘happiness’ is the wrong word—there is a different association of
the Danish word ‘happy’ or lykkelig. Danes
describe their ‘happiness’ as inner contentedness and satisfaction with life, in contrast to the outward joyousness or display of material wealth that one might find
in the States.
They experience hygge (best
translated to English as ‘cozy’) moments with friends and family, losing a sense
of time, eating and drinking something delicious, often accompanied by a lot of
candles. With strong social security provided throughout their lives and the
intimate leisure of hygge, why aren’t
Danes more outwardly happy? Instead, Danes often describe having low
As I would expect is typical of most students at the 5Cs, I reject the mindset
of low expectations. With the stress of grades, activities, post-graduate
plans, the dance between doing what I love and being ‘more practical’—all
dolloped with looming student debt—having low expectations is simply not an option.
But having low expectations is not a lack of ambition. It is a mindset for pleasant surprises, when things go better than expected, even if
not according to plan. In Copenhagen, I constantly expect wet weather, but if
it doesn’t rain on my bike ride to class, then I am a hundred times more
pleased. In Claremont, I can expect it to be nearly impossible to find a table during
Scripps Taco Night, but snatching one creates a small contentedness. Although
these are trivial examples, imagine how easy it is for Danes to have this
mindset toward academics and finding a job since pressure is alleviated by the
government’s safety net.
Homogeneity is another aspect considered to be a contributing factor to Denmark’s happiness. Because Denmark is generally racially homogenous, its people share traditions and a tribe culture stemming from the Vikings.
There are clear in-groups and out-groups. If I mastered the guttural,
talking-like-I-have-a-potato-in-my-mouth pronunciation of the language, had an
extended opportunity to study or work in Copenhagen and jumped through hoops
of citizenship, would I ever feel truly Danish?
There is no amount of black clothes I could wear, open-faced
pickled herring sandwiches I could eat, or rain or snow I could bike through
that would make me feel Danish. While Denmark has an impressive system, it is
insular. It works great, if you are a Dane, living in Denmark. As a young Asian-American woman in Copenhagen,
I have felt very aware of my ethnicity in a city that is praised for its
equality but perhaps only because its lack of racial diversity provides context.
A semester abroad is a short span of time—how much can you
truly expect? I cannot claim belonging to a place I do not feel a part; I cannot
claim to have acted out of my comfort zone as frequently as I could have.
Having low expectations could have led to fewer disappointments and more
realistic, executable aims. In Copenhagen, I may always be a visitor, caught
in limbo as a tourist and local with basic knowledge, telling everyone I meet,
“I did not come here for the weather.”
Francesca Jimenez SC ’16 is a double major in music and psychology.
She managed to get paid during the summer to do academic research on The Velvet