What a Weekend Looks Like Inside the World’s Happiest CountryNone By Matt Alesevich
Denmark has done it again. For the third time in four years, the World Happiness Report has crowned Scandinavia’s smallest nation the world’s happiest country.
The happiness ranking, assembled via results of a global Gallup poll, has left social scientists brooding over everything from genetic predispositions to government welfare initiatives in an attempt to find out what’s in Denmark’s sociological secret sauce.
According to some Danes however, the secret to happiness lies in simplicity and needn’t be overanalyzed. One of these Danes is Line Hoff, co-founder of Laesk, a kombucha tea brewery in the heart of Copenhagen. Line says one simple way anybody anywhere can get a taste of Danish-flavored happiness is by emulating the typical Danish spring weekend.
So what exactly does such a weekend entail? We hit the streets of Copenhagen, the capital of happiness, to pick Line’s brain for a weekend and see for ourselves. Here’s how it went down.
Turning to weekend mode while the sun is high in the sky, the laptops go down and the music (tunes from 80s Danish band, Rocazino) goes up at Laesk’s brewery in bustling central Copenhagen. Calls are made, chairs get moved onto the sidewalk and friends, family and strangers stop by for a bit of merrymaking.
It’s key to wrap up Friday early (if you can, of course). Even my parents leave work early on Friday. It’s important to leave some time and energy to do something meaningful—you don’t want to just come home and crash and burn.
The chairs come inside. One group leaves for the movies, another couple heads to dinner and whoever remains is invited to Line’s apartment for dinner. At Line’s, she cooks while her guests watch Alle Mod 1, Denmark’s participate-from-home interactive TV game show. During dinner, there’s talk about seemingly everything but work.
Friends. Family. Coworkers. We don’t really make strict lines here. People are really good at mixing. There are spontaneous drop-ins—it’s not as if this hangout is for one specific group of friends.
After a full 8 hours unplugged from work and plugged into her social network, Line shows everyone out and calls it a night. Even though it’s still Friday, it no longer feels like a weekday.
Stopping work early on Friday means that by the time I go to bed, I feel like I’ve had a full weekend day. Best of all, I still get to bed before midnight.
It’s a slow Saturday morning. A full breakfast is prepared slowly, eaten slowly and cleaned up after slowly.
I don’t rush food. You have to put something nice in your body, and that goes for the whole weekend. During breakfast, I give myself an overview of what needs to be done and come out with a rough weekend schedule.
Line runs 15 kilometers with no set route listening to "Mads & Monopolet", a famous Danish radio show in which callers look for advice handling life dilemmas. With a show runtime of three hours, Line enjoys the show during her workout and continues listening while she gets ready for the day.
It makes me happy to run a new route every weekend listening to something new. One-sixth of Denmark listens to this show. When I listen, I laugh out loud alone. The scenarios discussed on the show are something everyone will talk about later while socializing.
Freshened up and ready for the day, Line walks to Torvehallerne, a chic outdoor market bustling with weekend life. She mingles with the apron-clad shopkeepers, sees what fruits and veggies are newly in season and checks out the menu at a Korean food cart.
I go to Torvehallerne because it keeps me updated on the food scene in Copenhagen. I don’t have enough money to shop all my groceries there, but it gives me inspiration for possibilities. Plus, I often bump into people there.
After stopping home, Line meets Eric, Laesk’s American co-founder, at Copenhagen’s Botanical Gardens. Noting every weekend must have some productivity to it while still remaining “weekend-y”, the two discuss an upcoming health inspection. Business matters are eventually put aside and the two head to a nearby street fair where Prince booms from the speakers.
If your next to-do list item is brainstorming names or making calls or discussing a launch party, these things don’t need to happen in an office. You need to step outside to enjoy nice days. Sunshine, fresh air and productivity—it's the best.
Keeping Saturday night low key, Line heads to a friend’s house where five of her friends cook together, watch a documentary and finish the evening laughing over a few rounds of a Pictionary-like game.
I’m not usually up for going out on Saturday because during weekdays, I’m working so fast. If you think you need to do a lot of things during what should be relaxing time, it can be too much. It’s important to do things slowly once in awhile.
Sunday morning, much like the previous morning, is slow paced. In Denmark, Sunday is a day of hygge (pronounced, roughly, “Hugh-guh”). Loosely translated as “coziness,” hygge embodies togetherness in a relaxed, comfortable setting. This weekend’s culmination of hygge is an evening get-together at her cousin Ditte’s apartment.
Hygge is simply about doing something that makes you happy in the presence of people you like. It can be watching a movie, or playing a game or walking in the city. It’s really just that.
Line fixes her bike and cleans up around the house, taking some time to tie up loose ends before heading out.
Having the perfect happy weekend is not only about enjoying yourself. It’s also about crossing stuff off your list—and my list is long. I can feel good about enjoying myself at a slow pace if I’ve done some of the things on my never-ending list.
With a tuned up bike—an essential for life in Copenhagen—Line rides to meet a former colleague for a sandwich and salad in a nearby park.
I bike everywhere. I like keeping up with old connections. I have a coffee date with three former colleagues next week. It takes effort to build a social network, and if you don’t take care of it, it will shrink. I have so many valuable people in my life, and everyone is really positive.
Line and her cousin, Ditte, drive to a waterside, line-out-the-door ice cream shop. Walking with ice cream in hand (licorice, a Danish favorite), Line and Ditte chat and eventually settle by a dock to take in the spring air. At times, minutes go by without a word.
We almost didn’t even talk. [Laughs]. But having people you can be around and not say anything is very important. Sometimes I just really need that mute button. Some people would find it stressful, but sometimes talking isn’t necessary.
Guests start trickling into Ditte’s apartment and the weekend seems to end like it started, with the arrival of a dozen people from different social networks. Eric practices his Danish with Line’s grandmother, plans are made for future dinners among old friends and hygge is in full swing.
Line’s mother, Charlotte, says:
The other day I was reading a book outside in the sun, just reflecting on how good I have it. We can get educated, go to the hospital, drive on the roads. We have nice nature. We are a little fairy tale of a country.
Line says her goodbyes and heads home with her thoughts to the week ahead. Her mother invites her to visit her childhood home next weekend—undoubtedly the site of next weekend’s hygge—and Line accepts.
I feel like I checked off all the stuff that goes with a happy weekend: Moving at a slow pace, getting sweaty, doing something practical, socializing, eating healthy food, doing something for myself, and yes—we had a lot of hygge.
While the theories of sociologists and other weekend schedules within Denmark will undoubtedly vary, during our up-close-and-personal weekend ride-along with Line, we noticed that most, if not all of her activities (including the themes behind the nation’s top-rated shows) embodied togetherness, inclusiveness, mindfulness, and to take a term from a Balinese monk we interviewed last year, healthy simplicity—all which can be accessed by renewing, not your passport, but your willingness to experiment with your weekend schedule—Denmark style.
Matt Alesevich is a New York City-based travel, relationship and human interest writer. His work can be found at www.mattalesevich.com and he can be followed on Twitter.
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