To be happy, trust is as crucial as welfare
Happiness is an ambiguous concept, and each person has a different sense of it. One person may be happy to have three meals a day and be healthy while another may feel unhappy even with great wealth.
The Grand National Party recently proposed “a country for happy citizens” as its new vision. Through customized welfare, the party hopes to enhance the national happiness index. The expansion of welfare is necessary, indeed. But will better welfare make people happier?
Just like Tyltyl and Mytyl seeking The Blue Bird of Happiness in the Belgian play “The Blue Bird,” the University of Leicester surveyed 178 countries to chart a world map of happiness and found that Danes were the happiest people on earth. Korea was ranked 102nd. Without a doubt, world-class welfare is one of the secrets of a happy Denmark. But Danish citizens pay half of their income as tax in order to cover the cost of welfare, so extensive welfare supported by high tax rates does not suit Korea.
The true secret to the Danes’ happiness can be found elsewhere. In a survey on social confidence, Denmark was ranked at the top among EU nations. When asked how much they trusted the people around them, on a scale of zero to 10, the average response for Danes was 6.99. Danes also had a great deal of confidence in politicians, at 6.18, and the legal system, at 7.13. Professor Torben Fridberg of the Danish National Institute of Social Research said that Danes trust one another as well as the government and the system, and the cycles of trust between the management and the workers and between large companies and small businesses are the cornerstones of Denmark’s happiness index.
Since constitutional democracy was introduced in 1848, Danish kings have lived modest and simple lifestyles as average citizens and have not demanded privilege. As water falls from top to bottom, this genuine attitude flowed down from the royal family to politics, business, the media and academia, spreading the culture of trust throughout society. Privilege, corruption, deception and fraud have no place in Denmark.
When citizens are sincerely respected and the law is enforced fairly and transparently, and if everyone is equal in front of the law, whether rich, poor, powerful or weak, then the happiness index will go up even if the welfare system is not extensive or complete. The blue bird of happiness is not far from us. It actually lives inside our minds.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Bae Myung-bok