According to the UN’s World Happiness Report, a survey that classifies the happiness of 155 countries, Denmark has ranked as one of the top three happiest for seven years. The reason? For nearly 20 years, students are required to take a class in empathy.
Danes believe that empathy contributes to the happiness of its people
Empathy helps in building relationships, preventing bullying and succeeding at work. It promotes the growth of leaders, entrepreneurs and managers. In Danish schools, one hour each week is dedicated to empathy lessons for students aged 6 to 16 years—a significant curriculum commitment.
So what does an empathy class look like?
During the Klassens tid students discuss their problems. The whole class, together with the teacher, try to find a solution. Thanks to their empathy training, this solution is based on careful listening and understanding. It sounds a bit like group therapy.
If there are no problems to discuss, children simply spend the time together relaxing and enjoying hygge, defined as “intentionally created intimacy”. In a country where it gets dark very early in the year, it rains, it’s gray, hygge means bringing light, warmth and friendship; creating a shared, welcoming and intimate atmosphere.
So if these kids don’t have problems to discuss, which seems highly unlikely, they have a chance to just take a nice time out and chill, to share quality time with their classmates. Hygge is a fundamental concept for the Danish sense of wellbeing. But hygge isn’t just for the Danes; it’s becoming a global phenomenon. Amazon sells more than 900 books on hygge, and Instagram has more than 3 million posts with #hygge.
Danes learn empathy, that it’s fundamental to teamwork
American writer and psychologist Jessica Alexander, with Danish psychotherapist Iben Sandahl, have conducted field research to understand how the Danes teach empathy.
Teamwork is a continuing theme–60% of the tasks at school are carried out through some kind of collaborative effort.
The focus is not to excel over others, but to take responsibility for helping those who are not equally gifted.
For these reasons Denmark is also considered one of the best places to work in Europe.
Competition is exclusively with oneself, not with others
Danish schools offer neither prizes nor trophies to their students who excel in school subjects or in sports, so as not to create competition. Instead they practice the culture of motivation to improve, measured exclusively in relation to themselves. The Danes give a lot of space to children’s free play, which teaches empathy and negotiation skills. Playing in the country has been considered an educational tool since 1871, explains Jessica Alexander.
An emphasis on collaborative learning; because no one goes through life alone
Danish education brings together children with different strengths and weaknesses to make them help each other in class, working together on various projects. This teaches children from an early age that they cannot succeed alone, that helping others leads to better results.
A child who is naturally talented in mathematics, without learning to collaborate with peers, will not go much further. That child will need help in other subjects to be successful, so it is important that kids are learning these lessons as they go. Teaching children from an early age that no one can go through life alone, that each of us has strengths and weaknesses and we balance each other.
The Danes get it. Going to a lesson of empathy gives great satisfaction and joy to Danish children. Best of all, it prepares them to become happy adults.
We have an opportunity to be happier in 2021
In some ways, the pandemic has brought out the best in us. We’ve learned to have more grace. We’ve dug a little deeper to help those who have been devastated by the fires, loss of jobs and loved ones. I’ve seen a greater sense of community, neighbors reaching out to neighbors. How can we not be heartened by the record-breaking numbers of people registering to vote, then showing up at the polls, sometimes waiting in line for hours—people that spanned demographics. This commitment is something we’ve never seen before. I believe we’re on the cusp of better times.
One more resolution for 2021: Creating a Living Trust
We service the entire East Bay and North Bay areas
Berkeley, El Cerrito, Richmond, Pinole, Alameda, San Leandro, Castro Valley Newark, San Lorenzo, Concord, Alamo, Danville, Lafayette, Orinda, Moraga, Pleasant Hill, Martinez, Pittsburg, Antioch, Brentwood, Oakley, Discovery Bay, Pleasanton, San Ramon, Livermore, Tracy and Fremont. Our clients also live in the Napa Valley, Benicia, Vallejo, Martinez, Fairfield.