Data Reveals This Is The Happiest Country In The World For People Over 60

Older people, and young people, are generally happier than people in middle-age.

Where are the happiest 60-plus-year-olds in the world? Denmark, according to the World Happiness Report.

The country consistently ranks highly in happiness measures for a number of reasons. This year’s report was no exception: The country took the top spot for people over 60 and ranked second overall (only placing behind Finland).

While it’s important to know not all Danish people are happy 24/7, the country has some societal norms that make it easier to be so. Experts say there are also certain behaviors and beliefs that fuel the joy in the country.

Below, experts break down those factors and how you can glean some for your own day-to-day life:

The Nordic welfare state plays a major role.

“I think the evidence is quite clear … you’re more likely to be quite happy if you live in a welfare state than if you don’t,” said Søren Harnow Klausen, a professor of philosophy at the Department for the Study of Culture at the University of Southern Denmark.

While there are pros and cons to this system, overall there is more financial freedom. Education, including college, is free, as is health care and nursing home care, Klausen said.

What’s more, all elderly Danes have their basic needs covered by a pension from the government, added Lars Larsen, a professor in the department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Aarhus University.

A lack of these measures often constrains freedom for older people in many countries, but not so much in Denmark, Klausen said. “And there’s especially little of that for the age group 60 to 75.”

Additionally, Larsen said Denmark is financially strong, has a long life expectancy and has low levels of corruption, which allows people to have a higher happiness baseline, too.

“Another thing that’s really important is the equality of happiness and that is high,” Larsen explained. “It’s more difficult to be happy if others are not and that’s why we see some affluent nations not scoring as high as you might expect.”

Meaning, even if you’re affluent and living in an affluent country, your own happiness can still decrease if you see a group of people who are not doing well and no one is doing anything to change that, Larsen said. This could be why the United States never tops these lists. “Simply because people are not as equal and they cannot count on welfare if they’re not faring well,” he said.

While there are certain societal and cultural norms that create a higher baseline of happiness for people throughout Denmark, this does not mean everyone in Denmark is happy.

“Underneath this overall national happiness, of course, you see many individual differences, and even though they are raised in really good conditions, an accident might happen, or they might have psychiatric illness, for instance, and of course will affect their happiness,” Larsen said.

Overall, when it comes to happiness, most people are happiest early in life and late in life.

Normally, factors associated with aging such as cognitive function or learning capacity are illustrated as an inverted “U,” Larsen said. They often are at their peak in middle age.

But for happiness, the opposite is true, “meaning that you are the least happy in the middle of life and more happy early and late,” Larsen explained.

When older people’s basic needs are met, as they are overall in Denmark, they’re happy, he noted. “Why is that? Perhaps it’s because they’re free from many of the responsibilities and a lot of the stress experienced in midlife,” said Larsen, like raising young children, taking care of elderly parents, worrying about getting ahead at work and more.

“And as people age, they generally attach more importance to remembering the positive aspects of their lives and less to remembering the negative aspects,” Larsen said. Research also shows that older folks develop a higher degree of resilience, too, to deal with loss and diagnoses of chronic health conditions that become more common in older age.

Robin Skjoldborg via Getty Images

Older people, and young people, are generally happier than people in middle-age.

Older people in Denmark prioritize things they find rewarding.

“Quite generally, what is most satisfactory and what gives people most happiness is so-called intrinsic goods,” said Klausen. These are things that are fulfilling to a person’s internal wants and needs, and not necessarily something that helps get someone further in life.

“What has intrinsic value is also something like … developing or living out your own interests, not something that you [are forced to do], but what you really like to do yourself,” Klausen said.

While personal development is generally thought of in regard to young and mid-career professionals, it’s often linked to other goals — like getting ahead at work or getting a promotion. Whereas for older folks, “it’s often more about their personal interests and these intrinsic goods,” Klausen said. This could mean traveling, hiking, going to museums or whatever people may enjoy.

Having freedom to do what they want is part of this too. “When you’re getting rid of some responsibilities, it’s easier to sort of maintain freedom,” Larsen said. When older folks don’t have to focus on work or taking care of children or ailing parents, they can spend their time how they’d like.

They foster good relationships and cut out the bad ones.

The idea of a “grump” older person comes from somewhere ― and it’s likely not what you think. According to Klausen, this idea comes from older folks being picky about who they spend time with, and it’s actually a good thing for their happiness.

“They don’t want to waste their time on less rewarding relationships, they don’t want to hear so much bullshit anymore,” Klausen said. “And I think you can cultivate a mindset that makes you more focused on that which has really intrinsic value, for example, deep personal relationships.”

Research shows that having close relationships plays a major role in well-being and overall life satisfaction. Having meaningful relationships can even decrease your risk of depression.

Denmark, as a whole, is not overly ambitious — and that can be a good thing.

In many cultures, it’s normal to want more, more, more (just think about the idea of the American Dream!), but this is not the case in Denmark, Klausen explained.

“Danish culture is very egalitarian and it is not extremely ambitious,” he said. This is often questioned by other countries, he noted, who wonder why many Danes don’t “shoot for the stars,” but, in Danish culture, it is normal to work to improve yourself and improve things around you, but to cut it off at a certain point.

“You should also relax a little and take it easy,” Klausen said, adding that this mindset is sometimes criticized, and may have its drawbacks, but seems to also pay off in terms of happiness.

As a society, it’s also very trusting, he noted. People know they can trust their neighbors, folks they pass on the street and the authorities — the same can’t be said for many other places in the world. Distrust “is not conducive to happiness, it’s probably conducive to both anger and anxiety as well,” Klausen said.

The cultural norms in the U.S. are very different from Denmark, but hope for joy is not lost.

There are certain factors of Danish happiness that people living outside of the country just can’t channel. You can’t snap your fingers and have free health care or free college for your kids. But Klausen said there are things you can do to foster your own happiness even if your surroundings aren’t completely ideal.

“I think the stuff happiness is made up of is more or less emotions. It’s not so much experiences, at least not the spectacular experiences … they’re not unimportant, but much more important are the underlying, longer-lasting emotions,” Klausen said.

Regulating your emotions by paying attention to the things that make you feel good, make you feel anxious, make you feel calm and so forth is crucial, he said, though there is no one-size-fits-all way to regulate your emotions, either.

“There’s a kind of gauging your own emotional dispositions, and then you can start redesigning both your day and perhaps your immediate environment in order to strengthen the positive emotions and combating the negative emotions,” Klausen explained.

So if you know gardening brings you joy but spending time with a certain colleague makes you anxious, consider how you can garden more and be around that finicky co-worker less.

Emotions are highly personal, so what feels good to you may not feel good to someone else, and that’s OK. Customizing your day to help the positive emotions shine is going to be highly individual and can only help you channel some Danish happiness.

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