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How to Be Rich, According to the Happiest Country in the World

Meik Wiking, author of The Little Book of Hygge, tells us what the Danes know about converting wealth into well-being

Paul Ollinger
Published in
6 min readOct 21, 2020

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Filtered image of a person’s legs dangling over water with European buildings in the background.
Photo illustration; Image source: Alexander Spatari/Getty Images

Every other week, Paul Ollinger investigates how redefining success can help us lead better lives.

Winters in Copenhagen are long and dreary. Denmark’s tax rates are legitimately scary. And Hamlet was a bit glum, to say the least. But year after year, the Danes place at or near the top of the World Happiness Report, a global ranking that uses Gallup World Poll data to measure contentment by country.

By comparison, the United States seems like it should score very well on a happiness test. Winters here are, on average, far more temperate. Our tax rates are relatively benign. And boy, do we have a lot of resources to entertain ourselves, from 23 Six Flags amusement parks to a near-monopoly on Cheesecake Factory restaurants. Despite this, we keep coming in around 18th or 19th on the list — this year, sandwiched between Germany and the Czech Republic.

I wanted to find out what the Danes know that the rest of us don’t — and, more selfishly, how I could implement some Danish happiness practices in my life. So on my podcast, I interviewed Meik Wiking, the CEO and founder of Denmark’s Happiness Research Institute and the author of the international bestseller, The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living. If you’ve ever heard of hygge (which is pronounced roughly “hoo’-guh”), it very well may have been in relation to this book.

Wiking and I discussed how the difference between Danish and American happiness is a function of what we value. Speaking generally, Danes emphasize togetherness, their social safety net, and work-life balance. “Nordic countries are really good at converting their wealth into well-being,” he told me. “They invest in things and experiences that create good conditions for good lives.”

In contrast, Americans glorify individualism, affluence, and achievement. It’s why millions of us spend 70 hours a week at jobs that feel inauthentic to who we are and what we want. And this attitude doesn’t seem to be changing with the next generation. In…

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Paul Ollinger
Forge
Writer for

Comedian. Host of the Crazy Money podcast. Proud former Facebook and Yahoo! sales person/leader. http://PaulOllinger.com/podcast