Friday, May 24, 2013

Danish Flourishing, Human Flourishing

     My first post on our trip blog! I guess I'm a little behind everyone else, but now I have the chance to introduce myself (I'm Sam, nice to meet you) and write about our trip at the same time - "to catch two herring on the same hook" as they say here in Denmark. (No one says that.)
     I've been lucky enough to study abroad before with my class in high school, but those trips were not so focused on studying a specific aspect of a foreign culture as this is. They were more broadly interested in consuming as much history, culture, and architecture (and food!) as we could fit in during the course of our travels. Of course happiness is so nebulous a concept, and so intricately tied to so many aspects of life (it could be said of anything that we do, we do to make ourselves more "happy," be it in that particular moment or in the future) that studying happiness inevitably involves much Danish history, culture, and architecture (and food!) as we can fit into our 10 days here. To illustrate the breadth of happiness, look at this list of "14 reasons why everyone needs to move to Denmark immediately." It's a little silly, but it touches on a number of things we will be studying as well, from government to design, and shows what a variety of things can contribute to people's happiness.
   That's not to say we're just wandering about Copenhagen searching for smiling Danes - we have regular lectures from the faculty of the university hosting us, DIS, on aspects of life in Denmark that overlap with what we studied in class at Saint Lawrence to give us some context as well. I've taken a few government classes at Saint Lawrence, and I knew a little about social democracies in Scandinavia before coming here, so I found yesterday's lecture about the role of the welfare state in Denmark especially interesting (some details in Jamie's post below!). Suzanne, our lecturer, suggested that the welfare state was the "key to happiness" in Denmark as it provides Danish citizens with everything they need to live comfortably, and illustrates the Danish "obsession" with equality and their unique culture of trust. (For example, under some circumstances you can make more money off of unemployment benefits than most people make working as professors at DIS. They also don't check passengers' tickets on trains!)
    Suzanne also said that Danish history, a history of defeat and decline between the 16th and 20th centuries, also contributed to the development of social democracy here. The Danes learned to "replace outward losses with inward gains" and come together as a people, rather than "reaching for the stars" as we tend to do in the United States.
     While what we learned about the welfare state made a lot of sense to me from a political perspective, there is a darker side to the benefits of Danish living as well, and I'm not talking about the high taxes. Part of coming together as a culture means excluding outsiders, and Denmark (and the rest of Scandinavia) have remarkably homogenous populations. While there may be 14 reasons why everyone needs to move to Denmark immediately, the fact is that not everyone is welcome here, at least not to stay. It is easy to construe Denmark as a Land of Milk & Honey, and for the most part I believe that they have a lot of things "right" (or left, perhaps...) politically. But as we fill this blog with testaments of flourishing Danes keep in mind - and we will try to as well! - that Denmark has made sacrifices to get here, just like any other country.
     While Denmark might be the happiest country on Earth, it is still on Earth (though I'm not so sure about Iceland after flying over), and its "happiness" is only worth anything in comparison to the much more profound misery that may be experienced (or learned about) the world over. The best reason I can think of for everyone to move to Denmark isn't pastries or government benefits, but that it might succeed in bringing us - Danes included! - closer together.

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