Denmark's government now has no foreign currency debt — for the first time in 183 years
Norway is the world's happiest country in 2017, according to the World Happiness Report
This thing about Norway can't be right, OK? Hey, their most famous writer Karl Ove Knausgaard (who!?) regularly writes about his dad's alcoholism for a living. His colleague Jo Nesboe tells stories about lots of blood and murder. And Edvard Munk's most famous painting Scream calls associations of anything but happiness.
Hey, and let us not forget that it is cold, damp and dark for most of the Norwegian winter. And yet... turns out the happiest people in the world live there (and in that region in general). How come?
Well, I can personally attest that the Norwegians, contrary to most stereotypes, are actually quite cheerful people. Calm and smiling. Despite the long winter. You can still walk around that amazing nature with a flashlight if you like, that is not a problem. I mentioned nature for a reason. Norway has clean, pristine, gorgeous nature that contributes to the general feeling of closeness with the earth. It serves as the ultimate pacifier. When you feel tense and irritated, a walk in nature would be vastly helpful. And we Scandinavians have tons of it around. Just take a walk in the woods, maybe climb the closest mountain, or spend an hour watching birds over the fjord. Then come back and report of the effects.
In fact, winter darkness could actually be helping the Norwegians get even closer to nature. And that is a huge happiness factor. They learn to appreciate the little things in life. And human interaction as well.
But let us not fool ourselves. Nature alone is not enough to make someone happy. The welfare state plays the main role there. It would have been rather difficult if the parents didn't have a one-year maternity leave with a full salary coverage, or if the unemployed didn't have a safety net to land on at times of crisis, or if the hospitals weren't equipped with top-notch technology, and run by world-class medical staff. It is the Maslow pyramid of needs, after all: first you have got to have the basic needs covered properly, only then you could appreciate the beauty of the environment that surrounds you (both natural and social).
Yes, the social system is at the core of this happiness. When you have got bread on the table, a roof over your head and a stable job that you enjoy, plus some spare time to dedicate to the things you love, then you already have the recipe for happiness.
But of course the welfare state wouldn't be possible without a solid economy. And the Norwegian economy mostly depends on the oil riches sitting in the shelf off their shores. In the 70s Norway started developing their oil fields, but unlike many other countries, they chose to invest much of the revenue into the welfare system. Still, oil alone doesn't make people happy, as so many examples from around the world have shown. Just a brief look at the World Happyiness Report and then the map of major world conflicts would confirm this.
It is the way you use that oil that defines your success in granting happiness to your people.
In fact, I have often heard the notion that Norwegians are actually the happiest nation in the world despite the oil, not because of it. Norway's long-term decision to exploit their oil treasures slowly, not hungrily, might have also been helpful. They have crafted a long-term strategy for their economy. They are investing the revenue into their future, not in the present. They do not insist to have everything they could get here and now. Their oil revenue has helped create the largest government investment fund in the world, which has spread its activities to all continents, making money for Norway and its people from all sorts of industries. This has made Norway more independent than other oil-rich countries. It has allowed them a living standard so high that they can afford not to care about being part of larger alliances like the EU, the Euro zone, etc, and still be on top. And they are prepared for the time when the oil inevitably runs out.
But in order to achieve all that, you would need the proper culture. Work ethics, social and political involvement, mutual trust between the members of society, and a sense of common interest, plus inherent generosity, transparency, responsibility, and the realisation that quality education is the key to capable governance. These are the factors that have granted Norway, along with its neighbours Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, plus Switzerland, the wealthiest, most prosperous - and yes - happiest citizens in the world.
And last but not least, a society has to be self-aware, and keep itself from getting complacent and haughty. Nordics have been relatively fortunate in that regard too: our cultures place diligence and humility on top of the list of virtues. This has generally prevented us from succumbing to euphoria from our success, and from the greed to want more than we can afford, and the demand to live beyond our means, and to have all we could get right here and now. Although, granted, the modern world is presenting way too many pressures and temptations threatening to develop the disease of materialism here as well.
But we are not there yet. At least not as much as other places. Our cultural background, and maybe nature too, are helping us fight it.