Since Norway, where I live right now, has been called the happiest country in the world – according to the World Happiness Report 2017 – I thought a lot about it and actually quite many people asked me as well. And to be honest: I don’t think Norwegians are the happiest people in the world. Of course, Norway ranks highly on the main factors found to contribute to happiness: caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance. And all of these things are true, especially the income and good governance part. Norwegians just have nothing serious to worry about. Still something is missing, because happiness is both personal and social. And in my opinion Norwegians definitely lack social happiness, no matter how great their personal living conditions might be. The following article from The Guardian, written by a Norwegian, explains it very well:
“For me, the reason Norway came out victorious is without doubt the standard of living. Most people earn decent money and live in warm, comfy, houses that have Netflix and HBO. Norwegians are good at being cosy, we buy candy and wrap ourselves under a wool blanket while we watch our favorite TV shows, or read an exciting book. Not exactly a larger-than-life existence, like the ones that Hollywood stars or rappers seem to have, but I think these small moments play their part. We like to be comfortable, and spend a lot of life just lying on a sofa.
Everything is healthy too: the food is organic, the water is clean, even the air feels healthier. The whole day we inhale fresh oxygen that is streaming down from our beautiful mountains and makes us 10 years younger.
But I doubt we are the happiest people in the world. For me Greeks, Americans and Latinos always strike me as happier. They seem freer to me, more outgoing and able to be themselves, like they are more alive somehow. Norwegians are often slightly nervous and awkward socially, maybe a bit repressed. It is said that the social anxiety might be a result of the weather, and it does makes sense: it’s cold, and rains a lot, so there are only really a few months of the year when we can regularly be outside among people. The rest of the year we stay inside like hibernating bears – and when, suddenly, spring comes and we have to go outside and talk to people, this can be painfully difficult. We don’t have the same social training as, say, the Greeks, who enjoy looking each other in the eye while singing love songs – or the Cubans, whose idea of having fun is to dance sober.
The repressed part in us comes from a social mechanism we have called the law of Jante. It basically means you should not believe you are somebody special, or be too happy with who you are. It’s quite an unnecessary law, and in many ways as lame as the sound of its own name. But the exception to the rule is when you’re drunk: then you are allowed to take up more space, so people get properly wasted at the weekends.
That’s why Norwegians are a lot of fun when they go out drinking, as there is all this pent-up energy waiting to come out. The same dude that tiptoes shyly down the street during the week can on Saturdays be seen dancing alone with a big crowd around him. And yes, he puts on one hell of a show.
To be honest I’m not sure anybody is really happy. People ask me if I think the Danes are annoyed we now hold the number one spot; I think they are probably relieved. It must be tiring having to always be the happiest person in the room. At least now they don’t have to feel the pressure to smile a lot during dinners.” (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/24/norway-happiness-denmark-weekend-saturday-night-law-of-humility)
As you can see, the author agrees on the lack of social happiness, even if Norwegians have it personally just fine (cosy houses, good cars, holiday cabin in the mountains, money to buy new clothes and stuff for free-time activities,…). But as I said, something is missing. My experience is that in everyday life they always keep their emotions in check. It is a result of the common thinking that you should not bother the others and leave them their private space. And if you suddenly would behave differently, the others might be concerned about it, which could bother them. But the goal is to prevent people from asking you what is going on, because most Norwegians are not good in talking about their feelings and, of course, you have to respect the private space of each other. That is why Norwegians make sure things run smoothly and everything stays the same. No need to talk to others and ask questions. Often it is difficult to say when they are happy, sad or angry, because it is kind of the same mood. Even when they don’t like you, they still smile at you (superficially) and behave Norwegian polite, which is more insincere than polite for me. Only when they are drunk, they act out their feelings – because their suppressed feelings burst out then – and seem really alive, seem more like who they really are and less like a reserved version of themselves. According to all that, their social anxiety prevents Norwegians from being truly happy. Of course there are exceptions, and I met exceptions, but still this observation applies to most Norwegians I met so far.
In my opinion you can be happy in Norway. Norwegian happy. But to be convinced that you are truly happy in Norway – while living there, not just for a vacation – you have to be raised in this country. I think it is very difficult to be truly happy as a foreigner in Norway. Even if you accept the social behavior and understand where it is coming from, it is totally different from what you are used to. And to adapt to it is probably one the most difficult tasks at all, because you have to change your personality. Actually I met some foreigners living in Norway, who asked me how it is going with regard to coping with the Norwegian society, because they have/had problems themselves. Most of them moved here because of marriage, which is definitely helping to become a real Norwegian, but still some of them can’t imagine to live in Norway their entire live. I can understand why and especially outgoing people from southern countries I can’t picture truly happy in Norway. On the other hand I can’t picture Norwegians truly happy in these southern countries.
I guess the personal definition of happiness depends on where you are coming from and in which conditions you have been raised. In their own particular way Norwegians are happy, but for outside parties they just seem satisfied while people from other countries, even if they don’t have a lot of money and comfortable living conditions, seem truly happy. Apparently sometimes less is more. The less you have, the more you appreciate the little things. It can be something as simple as a burst of laughter, which is material worth nothing, but means everything to the heart and soul. For me laughter is happiness – and in Norway I hear it way too seldom. People even stare at you and frown when you do so, I guess because I bother them and don’t leave them enough private space. But didn’t Charlie Chaplin teach us that a day without laughter is a day wasted? So be silly. Be fun. Be different. Be crazy. Be you, because life is too short to be anything than happy :)
I wish you all to find your happiness, however it looks like.
Ha ein fin dag,