Thursday, September 15, 2016

What Are Those Norwegians So Happy About?

Before traveling to Scandinavia, I wondered how the Danes and Norwegians always appeared in worldwide polls as the happiest people with the greatest overall sense of well -being. They live in a place with long, cold, dark winters even worse than Chicago’s. On our trip, I found out.

Yes, they have beautiful places where they can enjoy the outdoors. The fiords and mountains were spectacular to see. We heard from our guide that most Norwegians live for their opportunities to be outdoors skiing and otherwise enjoying their beautiful mountains.















There has to be more to their secret of national happiness than the beautiful scenery and there is. Norway has an extremely admirable social safety network. National healthcare is virtually free to all Norwegians. The government pays for daycare and most Norwegian women work outside the home. They get a 47- week paid parental leave. What can you say to that besides “Wow!”?

All laws are gender-neutral and in many families, the father is the one to stay home. After the leave, the parent has the option of working part-time.  Those women who don’t work are looked down upon by most of Norwegian society. The unions set the wage scales and the least anyone makes is $20 per hour. Of course, school through University is free.

Any Norwegian who has worked 40 years gets a pension worth about two thirds of his (her) salary starting at age 62. Anyone who has worked less than that can work until age 67 and get part of that amount. If someone needs to go to assisted living when they are elderly, he (she) pays 80% of his (her) pension check and their government pays the rest.

Norwegians are taxed heavily to pay for this generous social safety net. As a result, no one there is extremely wealthy. People there pride themselves on having a more equal society. If you want to become uber-rich, don’t go there. In Oslo, I was impressed when we were told to visit their most prominent, wealthy hotel. It was very nice, but I was impressed by how unimpressive it was. The Palmer House in Chicago is much ritzier. If you want to live in a society where everyone has at least the basics and nobody is homeless, Norway is the place to go. Most Norwegians will accept you as long as you work, learn to speak Norwegian, and try to fit into the norms of their society.



Of course, a social safety doesn’t prevent all problems. People can still become physically or mentally ill or develop addictions. They can still have family problems, disabilities, or other emotional difficulties. Nevertheless, I think how much easier it would have been for my former clients’ issues to be resolved had their lives been stabilized be such a safety net. We can certainly learn from the Scandinavians in this respect. In a way, it’s what my book Breaking the Fall is all about. 


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