Get Real

Get Real

- in Column

“What simple Danish modesty can teach us.” The absurdness of not wanting to reach the top fascinates Justin Chan from his American perspective.

Some years ago, an American television program sought to understand why Danish people are so happy.  In the rankings, Denmark beats even our own beloved Sweden in giggles and warm, fuzzy feelings.  What magic formula for happiness could a country—whose national hero is a guy who authored countless morbidly depressing children’s tales—possess that the rest of us are missing?

The secret, as it turns out…is having lowered expectations in life.

Rather anti-climactic, no?  To Americans hearing this, the idea even sounds absurd, given that “reach for the top” attitude we are always pushing.

Then again, who is to say that modest aspirations are without merit?  For Danes, an “ordinary” lifestyle is hardly shabby.  Just as in Sweden, strong social welfare gives Danes plenty to smile about: money to study, money to take vacations from work, etc.

One might rebut this argument by standing up for competitiveness and ambition, which naturally accompany high expectations.  Without a doubt, both of these qualities are important, and have created some of the most influential people we know.  The trouble is when these ideals are pushed beyond the point of reason, when constantly striving to surpass the guy above us obstructs us from being content with what we already have.

The winning attitude Danes may have latched on to, is that working hard to achieve your goals need not be followed by excessive disappointment if things go wrong.

Of course, that attitude probably works better in a country where people can be fired from their job without ending up on the street.

So really, “lowered expectations” ought to be re-phrased.  “Realistic expectations” is better because in reality, few people will ever find themselves on the television screen for their looks, fame, or influence.

Which is perfectly fine.  Most people in Denmark are not Nicklas Bendtner or Mads Mikkelsen, but find that no reason to cry.

Why?  Because though they will probably never walk the red carpet, Danes are certain of what they can expect: a handsomely modest, yet perfectly satisfying quality of life.

And don’t forget: when you expect less, getting more tastes much sweeter.

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1 Comment

  1. I’m glad I didn’t move directly to NY from Scandinavia- the cultural shock might’ve killed me.

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