Monday, 11 May 2015

Happiness is a warm "hygge"

In case you haven't come across the word before "hygge" means coziness, friendliness, peace of mind, belonging and social acceptance and it seems to explain, at least partially, why a recent eurostat report found that retired Danish women are the happiest people in Europe.

Eurostat -  Overall Life Satisfaction.
Contributing factors which encourage this state of affairs include the fact that the Danes have the best pension system in the world (as measured by the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index) the existence of social support networks, affordable child care facilities, good healthcare and a strong welfare system.

Denmark's pension system comes out with an overall score of 82.4 according to the  Global Pension Index which measures schemes on adequacy, sustainability and integrity according to a points system. The UK is currently in 9th place with a score of 67.2 (2 points up from the previous year due to auto-enrolment and rising contributions.) It will be interesting to see how the new flexibilities introduced this year affect the score. Despite falling out of favour in the UK, annuities are still widely bought in some of the higher ranking countries with 85% of Danes purchasing one, although some countries such as Australia (77.8) also do pretty well on more flexible systems like those being introduced here. In any case, having a secure, regular and guaranteed income must be one of the biggest influences on a general feeling of well-being and go a long way towards explaining the contentment of retired Danes.

In addition to a reliable pension system Danes "may pay some of the highest taxes in the world but they are rewarded with generous public services and a world-renowned welfare state." and "in Denmark grandparents are not faced with a second career as a childminder, unlike in the UK, where 47% of grandparents look after grandchildren and one in four working families rely on grandparents for childcare1."

Being female is also key to the happiness quotient. The authors of the report think this is probably because women tend to make strong and lasting friendships and are more likely to have social interests and hobbies outside the home when they retire.

Another interesting fact revealed in the report is that the poorest 20% of Danes are happier than the richest 20% of Greeks which adds some weight to the idea that social stability and a well-functioning welfare system are bigger factors influencing happiness than personal wealth.

On a global scale the World Happiness Report "reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness. It reflects a new worldwide demand for more attention to happiness as a criteria for government policy."

The criteria used to measure the happiness of citizens can be summarised in the following way:

"The happiest countries have in common a large GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy at birth and a lack of corruption in leadership. But also essential were three things over which individual citizens have a bit more control over: A sense of social support, freedom to make life choices and a culture of generosity." 2

An extract from the report's summary of Chapter 8 caught my attention with particular reference to the recent election.

"Well-being depends heavily on the pro-social behaviour of members of the society. Pro-sociality involves individuals making decisions for the common good that may conflict with short-run egoistic incentives.... Societies with a high level of social capital – meaning generalized trust, good governance, and mutual support by individuals within the society – are conducive to pro-social behaviour."

If Mr Cameron is looking to increase the overall well-being of the nation and move us up the chart, rather than down, over the next 5 years, (which surely sums up the job of government?) maybe he should download a copy and study it well.




  1. I think maybe a coalition government would not have been a bad thing. Coalitions tend to produce more moderate decisions that align better with the majority and long term goals. Nobody like a dead heat but I think it might produce better results than the uncertainty this 5 yearly election palava we currently have brings!

    1. Hi UTMT,

      Personally I would have preferred a majority government of quite a different flavour as my views are pretty left of centre and I think the notion of "austerity" is getting us nowhere and doing a lot damage in the meantime. This fact is also known by the Tories as despite making a lot of noise about it they put austerity measures on hold after the first 2 years of government in order to allow some growth in preparation for the next election and continue to use it as a hammer to beat down the benefits system. This is why they broke their election promise about the deficit, as we all know they did.

      Time will tell I suppose. In some ways I am beginning to want to just give up and go with the advice of Voltaire “Let us cultivate our garden.” (Much as you are doing at the moment - it's looking great btw :-))

  2. I find the perceptions of corruption readings very interesting. The US is surprisingly low. Really be fascinating to know whether corruption is actually lower or whether the perception is out of kilter with reality. Iceland is quite famous for being fairly uncorrupt in general which at least explains their extremely low reading. A wonderful country, Iceland, if you have not been.

    A fascinating set of data. Thanks very much for writing up this little summary for us. I would have never of bumped into it otherwise.

    Let's see what the Tories do by themselves. As UTMT says, I suspect that it would have been better if a coalition was created again. But, hey ho. Let's see what occurs!

    1. Yes, I was surprised about the corruption aspect too. It would be interesting to find out if the perception aligned with fact - I'm sure someone will have done some work on that, if I find it I'll post a link.

      I've never been to Iceland but would love to go. Outside bathing in a hot tub, the Northern lights and a glass of something fizzy - what's not to like? :-)

  3. I checked out YouTube to find out how 'hygge' is pronounced ("who ga") - not only is it a lovely sounding word, it's got a lovely meaning too, so no wonder retired Danish women are so happy, everyone would love have hygge in retirement!

    Interesting to see how the Scandinavian countries with their high taxes feature highly in the table - I guess with higher wages and higher standard of living, such taxes can pay for decent state pensions and healthcare.

    I feel that the recent changes to pensions should see the UK's points continue to improve but I just can't see how the state pension and healthcare can get much better - where will the money come from?

    My parents decided to retire in Hong Kong, hardly a benevolent or giving country (you have to pay £50 just to see a doctor...). They just knew that they couldn't rely on the state (any state) to look after them in their old age, so saved/invested accordingly. They are surrounded by friends and family, have numerous hobbies to keep themselves busy and have peace of mind over their finances. I hope I get to have 'hygge' like my parents but like them, I won't be relying on the state to provide for me - I'm half expecting the state pot to have run out by the time I have need of it!

    1. Hi weenie, your parents are to be applauded for building such a good life for themselves. Long may it continue:-)

      Being in charge of our own destinies and having supportive families and friends is something everyone must wish for but unfortunately not everyone achieves, whether due to illness, lack of education, poverty, bad fortune or good old fashioned fecklessness (of which there will always be some).

      So many times it is the children who come off badly and then never manage to pull themselves up for all sorts of reasons. If the state doesn't provide anything else it should provide equality of opportunity and basic support for vulnerable people, without feeling the need to encourage disdain and hatred such as that inherent in the "poverty porn" that is rife at the moment.

      The state pot will there for as long as we pay enough into it because we want things to run in the way I described above. When we stop wanting that then it will empty and "hygge" - a sense of belonging and responsibility for other people will be a thing of the past.

      (btw - congratulations on your win on the election result. I might not like the result but at least it did some little good somewhere :-)


    1. Hi dearieme,

      Many thanks for the link to an interesting article. It does make me appreciate (once again) how lucky I am that my husband and I both have DB pensions which, although they are both quite modest, do give us a secure, index-linked income no matter what the markets do. This also means that I can take a much higher risk profile with our investing than would otherwise be the case.