It’s always strange to live in a country that is listed as being one of the very best. When you have everything outwardly, it can make you look inwards. That’s when you sit down and think: “I wonder what Ryan Gosling is doing right now.” People in Syria do not worry about that stuff, for them happiness is something as simple as peace. But if you’re from safe little Norway, you’ve got loads of time to imagine what Ryan is up to. He’s probably eating lunch with Eminem and Benicio Del Toro. You know, just catching up with two old friends. Or maybe he’s just at home feeling kind of down, wondering what’s going on in Leonardo DiCaprio’s life? I’m sure Ryan has things he struggles with too.
I would say Scandinavia is in general a great place to live. Almost all the Scandinavian countries made the top three in the World Happiness Report this year. Sweden was the exception; Swedes are not happy enough, so they came all the way down at number nine. But they definitely have what it takes to claim the title, so we expect our neighbours to raise their game next season. I think this year Zlatan Ibrahimovic probably counted for half of Sweden’s happiness. He’s another guy who seems pretty content to me, and I advise Swedes to follow his example.
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 favourite 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.
Am I a happy guy? No way, I can’t stand my own face. Which is very humble and Norwegian of me.
Daniel Simonsen is a Norwegian stand-up comedian.