Following is the full transcript of author Malene Rydahl’s talk titled “Planting Seeds of Happiness The Danish Way” at TEDxINSEADSingapore conference.
Malene Rydahl – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
Now, most of us dream of the perfect paradise.
I’m going to start by taking you to my paradise. This is what the weather looks like when you wake up in the morning. This is how you get to work.
And once you’re done working, this is how much you pay in income tax.
Well, then again, you’re thinking, “Paradise? It can’t all be about work!”
So let me take you to a day at the beach — in paradise. Something is missing? Friends? Right?
This is probably what your neighbors are going to look like. Because in this place, there are more pigs than people.
Now, if you’re thinking, “My God, if this is paradise, I don’t want to go,” let me tell you something about this place that might make you change your mind. The paradise is called Denmark.
It is the country I was born in and where I lived for the first 18 years of my life. It also happens that the Danish people are amongst the happiest people in the world. Yes.
Despite the bad weather, the high taxes and the many pigs, the Danish people express being very content in life. They have what we call a good base of well-being.
The economists started measuring happiness more than 40 years ago, and ever since, Denmark has come on the top of the list of the happiest places to live in the world.
When United Nations came out with the first World Happiness Report in 2012, Denmark was again number one.
SO WHAT MAKES THE DANES SO HAPPY?
Well, there are many reasons, but I’m going to talk to you primarily about three things. I am going to try and give you actionable things that you can do and ways to plant seeds that can actually grow into the happiness as the Danes know it today.
I insist on planting seeds because as we all know, change takes time. And it is actually planting seed that will start that process.
Now, sometimes when I talk about the Danish happiness, I get the reaction from people saying, “That’s great, but I’m not Danish, and I do not live in Denmark.”
Even Hilary Clinton said it recently in a debate: “I love Denmark, but we are not Denmark.”
So, let me tell you something. I am Danish, but I have actually been living in Paris for the past 20 years.
But more importantly, I’ve received letters from people who read my book, from all over the world – Japan, Korea, Taiwan, France – telling me that they also live by these values and they live good lives.
These are not Danish values. They are human values. They are owned by each one of us.
So I am going to talk to you today about trust. I’m going to talk to you about the freedom to be you and about finding purpose.
Now, trust in Denmark is a full-grown oak tree at around 80%. Eighty percent of Danish citizens trust each other. In most countries in the world, it’s not even a sprout, at around 5% in the worst cases, and on average in Europe at 25%.
In Denmark, it gets summed up in one image: babies sleeping outside a restaurant.
Now, you would say, “Well, nobody is watching the babies!” Well, I would say, “Everyone is.”
In Denmark trust is so high that you can actually leave your baby sleeping outside while you’re having lunch. A Danish lady tried to do this in New York. She got arrested.
Now trust really comes down to something quite elementary. If we want to live in a world of more trust in a community, have a group of friends we trust, it is going to have to start with you.
The first seed that you can plant is to be a trustworthy person. And as much as you can to show trust in others. This actually starts at a very elementary place. It starts by simply doing what you say and saying what you do.
SO WHAT DO I MEAN BY THAT?
Well, I mean that when I say I’m going to do something, I do it. And if I don’t, I say it. The root of trust is as simple as this.
Now, I have traveled to some of the counties in the world with the lowest trust. And I always say, if you want to live in a community or a world of more trust: be a trustworthy person; show trust in others.
And this applies in tons of ways in our everyday lives — from telling your friend that you’re going to help him with something and actually showing up. Or agreeing with a colleague that you are going to do something and actually doing what you agreed on. And if you change your mind, say it.
I can take this to an even bigger scale and talk to you about the Noble Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, who created Grameens Bank in Bangladesh, a country with 5% trust. He gave loans to thousands of people, without guarantee. 95% of them were paid back. If he can do it under these circumstances, it should be an inspiration to all of us.
Trust is actually a choice made by each one of us every day. Saying that this and that person is not doing it is in my world not a reason not to apply it to yourself. We can actually choose to be part of the team fostering a world of more trust.
FREEDOM TO BE YOU
Now the second seed is the freedom to be you. This is actually also about trust. It’s about trusting yourself to be you.
In Denmark, the main purpose of education is to develop the personality of the child. We teach our children that no matter what they are good at, it’s important to society. You are not rated a better human being because you are good at math or foreign languages.
You can actually be top of the class in creativity or cooking. No matter what your talent is, it’s important; we value it.
Now this gives the young Danish people an extraordinary base of actually choosing a life that corresponds to who they are. Because they are taught at an early age that no matter what that role is, it’s important to society.
Now, let me tell you a little story. A few months ago, I had dinner with some friends in Denmark, and a lady looked particularly happy that night. And she explained to me that she was so happy because her son finally figured out what he wanted to do in life.
And I said, “Well, so … really?”
“He’s jumping out of bed, going to school every morning. It’s wonderful.”
I said, “What’s your son studying?”
She said, “He’s studying Techniques and Logistics.”
I said, “Well, that’s great. What will he do after?”
And she looked at me, and she said — and she smiled — she said, “He’ll be a garbage man.”
Now, admit that some of you might be thinking, “What parent would really be happy that her son wants to be a garbage man?” But guess what? This is actually where a part of the key to this whole big question lies: When you’re free to choose what you want to do in life without other people judging you.
And this includes, by the way, parents, who very often project their own ambitions on their children. What could possibly bring more value to your own person than to have your child being a mirror effect of yourself: the Mini Me?
Now, some people might argue, “Hm, well, the educational system doesn’t work that way in my part of the world.” Maybe not.
But you are still free to choose how you react to other people’s choices of being themselves. It is still your choice not to judge but to encourage and support other people’s choices of being themselves.
When it comes to your choice and your freedom to choose your life, I’m going to go back to my seeds of happiness. Because sometimes, and I would say actually most of the time, we are not free.
We have tons of responsibilities: paying rent, school fees, having committed to a big project that we need to finish.
Now, I know this because most of the choices that I’ve made in my life have started with me actually planting a seed that has gradually grown into something that I could choose.
The only reason why I am here in front of you today is that I planted a seed two and a half years ago when I started writing my book. After 18 years in the corporate world, I only left my job three months ago.
And to be honest, while this seed was growing, I didn’t know where it was going to take me. But knowing, thinking about that I planted it made me feel happy.
The point is that if you don’t plant any seeds, you’re sure that nothing will happen. It doesn’t actually matter how long it takes for your seed to grow. What matters is that you have come closer to becoming you. This alone will actually add significant well-being to your lives.
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO?
Well, we can spend time figuring out when we stop being ourselves. Find that dream and plant that seed, and we can make sure that next time we see somebody fighting the battle of being free to choose their life, we do not judge. We support and we encourage them.
The last seed I am going to talk to you about is purpose.
So what do I mean by purpose? I mean this. So, you wonder, maybe, who is behind that? Let me introduce you to Ali.
Now you might see a dishwasher, but if you ask any of Ali’s colleagues, they would say that he is part of the team running the best restaurant in the world.
When Noma won the prize of the best restaurant in the world, René Redzepi, the chef, decided to take the whole team to London to receive the prize on stage. Ali, due to some paper problems, couldn’t go, so the whole team ended up on stage wearing a T-shirt with the photo of Ali.
For the people working at Noma, it’s about living a dream; it’s about living their passion. It’s about being part of a common project.
So what can we learn from them? Well, this is of course closely linked to the second seed of actually doing something that you feel passionate about.
Planting the seeds of your dreams gives you a feeling of purpose. Doing something that you love gives you a feeling of purpose.
So, if you project this on a country level, what does that look like?
Well, in Denmark, seven out of 10 Danes like paying taxes because they feel individually responsible and committed to the common project of the welfare state. It gives them purpose, and it is part of what makes them feel content in life. They’re not victims of the system. They’re part of it.
Lack of purpose can come from two things. It can come from not doing what you like in life, but it can also come from not feeling part of anything – just basically executing what you are told to do, being a sort of victim of your own existence.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO ABOUT IT?
Well, we can find that passion inside of us. Find that dream and plant that seed and make it our individual responsibility to take care of it so that it grows into something that we can actually choose.
Planting the seeds of our dreams gives us purpose, it gives us hope, and it makes us feel happy.
Now, I’ve talked to you about trust, the freedom to be you, and finding purpose.
But it’s actually not what is given to us in life that really matters, it’s what we do with it. Who cares if you are born in a country with high trust, the freedom to be you, with greater purpose if you take this for granted, if you don’t use it the right way?
It is for us to choose to live by these values, little by little, as well as we can. It is our individual responsibility to make sure that if we want to live in a world with more trust, that we are a trustworthy person, that we show trust in others.
Don’t be sitting around waiting for someone else to come with that solution. Be that solution.
Don’t be part of the problem. Be part of the solution. These values are owned by all of us. They are for us to choose, and I hope I have illustrated that you do not need to be Danish nor to immigrate to Denmark to find happiness.
It is within each one of us and the choices we make to plant these seeds of happiness and to be and to choose to incarnate the change that we would like to see in the world.
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