Why Danes are Happier than Americans

By Jason Marsh, Bernie Wong, Kat Saxton | August 6, 2010 | 2 comments

Summaries of new research on cross-national happiness, the benefits of a genuine smile, and how to deal with social stigmas.

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* This new Greater Good section, Research Digests, offers short summaries of recent studies on happiness, empathy, compassion, and more. Quick to read, easy to digest—we review the research so you don’t have to! Subscribe to the Research Digests RSS feed to receive future digests.


Why Danes are Happier than Americans

"The Danish Effect: Beginning to Explore High Well-Being in Denmark"

Biswas-Diener, R., Vitterso, J., & Diener, E. Social Indicators Research, Vol. 97(2), Jun 2010, 229-246.

Denmark consistently ranks as the happiest nation on Earth, and this study explored why. The researchers, including leading happiness researchers Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, compared surveys of Danes with surveys of people in the richest nation on Earth, the United States. They found that while Danes reported more overall satisfaction with their lives, Americans reported higher levels of positive emotion—and higher levels of negative emotion as well.

What’s more, while Danes generally have more positive views of their lives than Americans, this was especially true when comparing citizens who are less well-off. Rich Americans and rich Danes seem equally happy, but in Denmark, where there is very low socioeconomic inequality, people with relatively low incomes were much happier than people with low incomes in the United States. The researchers suggest that Denmark is such a happy country because of the relatively high happiness levels of its poorest, rather than its richest, citizens, and this gives it its advantage over the U.S. —Jason Marsh

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Why Are You Smiling at Me?

"Why Are You Smiling At Me? Social Functions of Enjoyment and Non-Enjoyment Smiles"

Johnston, Lucy; Miles, Lynden; Macrae, C. Neil. British Journal of Social Psychology, Vol 49(1), Mar 2010, 107-127.

Participants observed a succession of genuine and fake smiles, and rated the facial expressions as positive or negative. The researchers found that the participants instinctively recognized the difference between the two smile types. They were more likely to cooperate with those perceived to have genuine smiles and rated their expressions as more positive than those showing fake smiles. The researchers argue that this skill serves an important social function, enabling us to identify people who are trustworthy and reduce our risk of being exploited. —Bernie Wong

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Isolation and Stigmatization

"How Does Stigma Get ‘Under the Skin’?: The Mediating Role of Emotion Regulation"

Hatzenbuehler, Mark L, Nolen-Hoeksema, Susan, Dovidio, John. Journal of Psychological Science, Vol 20(10), October 2009, 1282-1289.

This study examined how being stigmatized can lead to psychological distress, and uncovered factors that may help people deal with this kind of discrimination. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people who experienced stigma reported more isolation and less social support compared with African Americans, and the researchers found that being socially isolated made these stigmatized LGB participants significantly more likely to experience distress. In addition, people who were able to distract themselves, rather than dwelling on the discrimination, felt less upset, nervous, afraid, depressed, and anxious. —Kat Saxton

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These little snippits of information are interesting, but unfortunately, they refer the reader back to journals that are often only available by subscription.  So it becomes impossible or very difficult to find out more.  Surely there are ways that you could provide more information.  Thanks for considering this idea.

Marc Brenman | 6:15 pm, August 8, 2010 | Link

Jason Marsh's avatar

Thanks for your comment, Marc. Yes, we try to provide links for readers who want to learn more about the studies, but as you note, many of these journals make the full articles available only to those individuals or institutions with a subscription. We hope that, at the very least, when full text is not available, abstracts of the articles help a bit.

We provide more in-depth coverage of research elsewhere in Greater Good, from our In Brief and Features sections to the Raising Happiness blog to our videos and podcasts. Still, there’s a lot of fascinating research on the science of a meaningful life that we aren’t able to cover in these other sections. So it was our goal with the Research Digests to provide readers with a quick overview of recent, relevant studies that we otherwise wouldn’t have had time to cover at all. We hope the digests at least provide some provocative food for thought and a window into the state of the science for those who want to keep up on the science of a meaningful life, especially if they don’t regularly read academic journals.

Jason Marsh | 2:58 pm, August 19, 2010 | Link

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