The Independent's journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Finding the secret to Danish happiness on a Copenhagen city break

No one does ‘lykke’ quite like the Danes, says Rachel Hosie

Rachel Hosie
Thursday 11 April 2019 13:10 BST
Denmark, the home of hygge
Denmark, the home of hygge (iStock)

Happiness is difficult to measure, and yet endless studies over the years have reached the same conclusion: the Danish are some of the happiest people on Earth.

In fact, the World Happiness Report has placed Denmark in the top three countries for the past seven years (it came second in the 2019 index), despite the fact that it receives significantly less sunshine than most and is also known for being one of the most expensive places to live.

The report points out that all the top countries in the rankings tend to score highly in all six of the most important factors that have been found to support wellbeing: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

What about the less tangible factors? Are Danes really more generous and trustworthy than, say, Brits?

I went to Copenhagen for a few days to find out.

At the quirky boutique Andersen Hotel in the trendy area of Vesterbro, guests are treated like returning family members.

There are tins of free homemade biscuits, toffees and bottles of water at every level of the staircase; all guests are entitled to have their rooms for a full 24 hours at no extra cost, regardless of how late they checked in; and there’s even a daily free-wine hour from 5-6pm.

Yes, free wine. For an hour. Every day. Can you imagine the carnage that would ensue if this were in the UK?

But this isn’t about getting guests drunk – it’s about bringing people out of their rooms to socialise together, a rare and beautiful thing these days. And it works.

As the receptionist told me: “It’s a really big part of Danish culture – we just bring people together... over alcohol!”

As well as the obvious generosity, the whole concept of being trusting seems to ring true too – outside of free-wine hour, there’s an honesty bar where guests can help themselves and are simply asked to write down what they took and leave the right amount of cash.

Drinking isn’t the only route to happiness, though. No mention of Danish contentedness would be possible without including the concept that’s been packaged up and brought over to the UK in recent years: hygge.

Candles are even at breakfast (Andersen Hotel)

According to Karina Living, director of operations at the Absalon Hotel (the Andersen’s nearby sister property): “Hygge is very hard to define. It’s something we were forced to invent in Denmark because the winter is so dark and we had to create something to get through it. It’s about closeness and warmth.”

You may roll your eyes at cosy, candlelit scenes suddenly being described as hygge, but there really are candles everywhere you look in Denmark during the winter: at breakfast, on every cafe table and even in the (free, heated) public toilets. Naturally, there are blankets all over the place too – key for keeping warm during the long, cold winter.

But what’s all this got to do with being happy?

“Hygge creates lykke [happiness] for most people,” says Living. “If you’re in the presence of hygge it’s hard not to feel lykke.”

I’d originally thought the whole concept of cosiness equalling happiness was, well, a bit far-fetched. But as I sat at a candlelit table in the aptly named cafe Coffee Room, blanket on lap, chai latte in hand, while tucking into an avocado-topped smorrebrod served on a wooden board, I realised that, yes – I really did feel something. What was this warm, fuzzy feeling inside? I think they call it happiness.

The Andersen Hotel has cheery rooms (Andersen Hotel)

It’s no secret that the living conditions in Denmark are great: work-life balance tends to be healthy, conditions for working mothers are considered good, people are generally well educated and there are lots of welfare opportunities for everybody, regardless of class.

Those factors alone aren’t enough to get you to the top of the happiness charts though, and you need only spend a few days in the country to notice the general air of genuine contentedness.

Perhaps the secret is that, in Denmark, people take their happiness into their own hands. “In theory everybody is their own lykke creator – it’s looking at yourself and how you can contribute to your lykke,” says Living.

Pass me those candles.

Support free-thinking journalism and attend Independent events

Travel essentials

Getting there

Ryanair flies from London Stansted to Copenhagen from £31 return.

Staying there

Doubles at the Andersen start from £154, B&B.

Read More: Best hotels in Copenhagen

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in