Chasing Danish happiness: The laws of Jante  

Denmark is often named the Happiest Country on Earth (although, Norway sent us to a temporary 2nd place in 2017). This title draws international headlines and spurs the question among investigative journalists:

What is the key to Danish happiness?

Growing up in Denmark and living in 4 different cities, has taught me how surprisingly different our social norms can be with just 100 km. of distance between us. But some elements of our culture remain steadfast throughout our little country. One of those is the laws of Jante.

The Laws of Jante (Janteloven)

The laws of Jante are not really laws, but rather a set of law-like sentences that describe the Danish (/Scandinavian) mindset. They were introduced by Danish-Norwegian Author, Aksel Sandemose, in 1933 and is a critical reflection on a Universal set of Laws that we all contribute to construct in our society.

Much like the narrative of the ‘American Dream’.

Or rather: The Laws of Jante are the direct opposite of the American Dream.

The Laws of Jante are neither celebrated nor proudly portrayed as the cornerstones in Danish society. Ironically, that is exactly in line with their message.

The 10 rules of Jante Law

You’re not to think you are anything special.

You’re not to think you are as good as we are.

You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.

You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.

You’re not to think you know more than we do.

You’re not to think you are more important than we are.

You’re not to think you are good at anything.

You’re not to laugh at us.

You’re not to think anyone cares about you.

You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

Now, you’re probably thinking that these rules are hash – brutal even. You’re not alone. If you ask a Dane about this set of laws, you will find that most are embarrassed by them and will try to convince you that it’s not not really a part of our culture anymore.

But it is. And it’s not a bad thing.

The rules are deeply embedded in our culture and they lay a foundation for a humble approach to life.

Let’s take an example:

You’re not to think you are more important than we are.

Now, please do not mistake this statement for being degrading or insinuating that ‘you’ are not important. The keyword here is ‘more’.

Equality in humbleness

Consider it as the baseline for equality. You are important, but not more important than others. Some are born into greater fortune than others, but none are born to deserve more fortune than others. You may achieve immense success in your life, but that does not make you better than others.

You will find this way of thinking embedded in Danish society; from the socialist welfare model built on high income taxes (starting at 40%) to our flat organizational structures where you sometimes can’t identify the CEO unless you ask.

Being humble about your achievements is essential because, more often than not, you are not solely responsible for how far you’ve come.

A society rarely develops without the help of its citizens.

And A CEO rarely achieves anything without help from her/his team. If he does, he is either bad at delegating his tasks or at training his employees and thus: not a successful leader.

So, how do these 10 laws affect our happiness?

Simple: Low expectations and a humble attitude with lead to less disappointments.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t be ambitious: I’m saying we should approach our goals with high ambitions and low expectations. And leave some room to feel surprise and joy when we reach our goals.

To quote Troels Kløvedal, a Danish author and world traveler:

“Happiness is when your expectations align with reality.”

– Troels Kløvedal

Now, I would love to hear your opinion on the Laws of Jante. Is there anything similar in your culture?
Leave a comment below 🙂

Until next time,

My

Decisions, decisions

Moving: out, in and on

This February is all about moving. After spending 6 months in Copenhagen for my internship, I have packed up and stacked up at my parents’ house in Esbjerg. Initially, the plan was to move back to Aarhus, where I would write my thesis and finish my master’s degree. But then something got in the way. Or rather someone.

It all began in Aarhus

Let’s flash backwards to 9 months ago, when I was still living in Aarhus. I had spent 4 wonderful years in that city and I loved every minute of it. There is something about this city that makes everyone, who ever lived here, speak about with an affection comparable to that of teenage-love. Maybe it’s because it’s the youngest city in Denmark. With its 50.000 students there are loads of events and activities around the city, tailored to our millennial mindset (did someone say board game café?). Whatever it is, there’s definitely a feeling in Aarhus that will stick with you. For me, the feeling was comfort and safety; I could literally bike 10 minutes in any direction and end up at a friend’s house.

Aros Art Museum Aarhus
Aros Art Museum in Aarhus

The search for the perfect internship

And so, 9 months ago, I was looking for an internship as a part of my master’s program. And though I loved my comfortable life in my big, bright apartment with a balcony view, my feet were itching, and I was longing for adventure. So, I searched for possibilities abroad – preferably in a place I’d never been.

First, I was offered a position in South Africa, where I’d support a volunteer project with Y.M.C.A. The tasks included project management for engagement of youths and investigative journalism and storytelling, which are big passions of mine. I was definitely intrigued, but also a little concerned about how much I’d be able to learn. Sure, I’d be leading the team and probably gain some valuable leadership skills, but it also meant that I could only really learn from myself. Also, I’d have to pay for all work-related travel myself and that was a real downside.

The second proposal I got was from a project in Cambodia. The tasks would include establishing and maintaining relations with locals in Cambodia and collaborating with them on promotional material aimed to protect the rainforest. The project appealed to me, because of its sustainable nature and the possibility to make a real difference. I actually accepted this offer and promptly announced to my family that I’d be spending Christmas in SE Asia.

Then came a turn of events. I saw a posting for an internship in UN City in Copenhagen. Having already secured a position, I thought: why not? And so, I sent them an application letter, passionately explaining my desire to work with international partnerships and sustainable development. Two weeks later they offered me the position and I had to cancel my plans for Cambodia.

A change of plans – a change of heart

Come end July, I made my tearful goodbyes to my best friends and solemnly swore that the capital would not swallow me whole – “I will be back, I promise!” And then I packed my boxes in my dad’s car and drove to Copenhagen.

(Naturally, there’s a few missing links here. First, I had to find a place to live in CPH, which is incredibly difficult. But let’s talk about that some other time)

I immediately fell in love with working for the UN. The beautiful building, the diversity, the huge and diverse intern network. It felt like a right decision. Of course, there was a rough couple of weeks at first; coping with being alone in a new city and some terrifyingly bad Tinder-dates, but after that it was nothing but pure love.

In September, I fell in love again. This time, in the most wonderful man I’ve ever met. He was an intern as well. We met at the Friday bar and almost immediately, he ‘moved in’ with me. We biked to work together, shared our lunch and spent our coffee breaks together. After work we would bike home to my place and repeat every day for the next month. Unfortunately, his internship ended in mid-October and he went back to Munich to finish his studies. After a month of long-distance calls, I realized two things:

  1. I really – really – don’t like long-distance
  2. I really – really – like this man

So, what do I do? Do I move to Munich?

If this were a romantic comedy, a wise stranger would tell me to follow my heart.

As if your heart only ever wants one thing.

My heart could as well take me to Aarhus. Back to my wonderful apartment, my beloved city and most of all: my friends, who have truly become family to me.

Decisions: A matter of the heart?

Sometimes in life, our decisions are not black and white, but rather a spectrum of nuances that make it difficult to make the right choice. Do we follow our hearts or our heads? Or our guts? Or the, sometimes unsolicited, advice from our parents?

I argue that often there are no right decisions. There are just decisions and the consequences thereof. I could have gone to South Africa and had an amazing experience and satisfied my wanderlust. I could have gone to Cambodia and never met this guy, and I’m sure I would have been happy in some other way.

But I didn’t. And now my life presents me with new choices as a consequence of my previous ones. I must now choose between the comfortable, familiar home in Aarhus or the uncertain, new life in Southern Germany.

Boiling down hours upon hours of contemplation, pros and cons-lists and propaganda-like advice from my mother, one fact drowned out everything else: If I do not give this relationship an honest chance, I’ll regret it for the rest of my life.

2 weeks from now I am moving to Munich.

And so here I am:  In the middle of my many boxes and my broken promises of returning to Aarhus. And the thrill of anticipation flutters like butterflies in my stomach. I can’t wait for this new adventure to begin.

Until next time,

My

The job search begins: Swimming in the competitive pool of new graduates

As a soon-to-be graduate, the time has come for me to think about my next career step.

A few weeks ago, I sent an application to participate in a 2-year graduate program after finishing my degree. If you don’t know what a graduate program is, you’re not alone.

What is a Graduate Program?

A graduate position is a program offered by large organizations specifically designed for new or recent graduates. The contract usually lasts between 1 to 3 years and often includes rotations between branches in different countries. The benefit of joining a graduate program is that it offers new graduates the opportunity to work in different roles and locations while learning and developing with the company. The main attraction for me is the possibility to travel the world and develop valuable leadership skills.

As you can probably imagine, the application process for these graduate programs are quite competitive. When I submitted my application, the company informed me that there had been 1.500 applicants for the 15 vacant positions. Which means there’s a hiring rate of just 1%.

Now, screening 1.500 applicants individually is obviously very time consuming. Therefore, these companies have implemented an elaborate recruitment process to gradually sort out the applicants. So far, I have participated in 4 rounds of the process.

Step one:

Upload CV, 1-page application letter and recent transcripts.

This first step of the process is just like any other job I have applied to. The key here is standing out from the crowd. Luckily, I have developed some skills in InDesign, which has come in handy when designing my CV. In my application letter, I tried to convey my passion for joining the program. Then I sent it to my friend, who works in HR and she told me: “My, I really like it. But I think you could improve this piece…”

I ended up rewriting everything and it took me about 5 hours. I improved my arguments, tightened my wordings and I ended up with a very powerful application. I pressed ‘sent’ and decided I owed my friend a bottle of wine.

On the day of the deadline, the company sent me an email, thanking the 1.500 applicants for their interest and added a link for the next step of the process.

Step two:

A game-based traits assessment

Gamification is everywhere these days and it presents a wonderful opportunity to extract data from unknowing users on their behaviour.

Naturally, big companies have included this in their recruitment processes. And to be honest: I love it!

This step included playing 12 short games online.

Some of the games would be identifying emotions based on facial expressions, other would include betting money to assess your willingness to take risks.

After you finish the games, the website provides you with a list of your identified traits in three categories: emotional, social and cognitive.

I must admit it was a strange feeling, suddenly seeing myself in data. Here is an example of how the results look:

Fairnessreward

Once I had completed the games, there was nothing left for me to do than wait.

And so I waited.

A few days later I received an email saying:

Congratulations! You are now one of 817 candidates.

I was now ready to complete the third step

Step three:

An online test measuring your general cognitive ability. And The Predicvtive Index® Behavioral Assessment (a personality profile)

The cognitive part of this test was much like the standard IQ-test you can find online. A mixture of language, math and visualization. It was time-based, and my adrenaline was pounding through my body. Unfortunately, I would not receive my results for this one, so all I can do is hope I did well.

The PI assessment was more relaxed and 7 days later, I received a full report on my personality. Again, a little scary to see yourself on paper like that. Here’s an example from the report:

riskinnovator

Auch! Aggressive? First, I didn’t really like that word – it’s not usually a word that many women like to describe themselves with.

Then I remembered, that if I were a man, being aggressive would mean: taking control, being decisive and powerful. And so, I decided that that applies to me too. A woman impowered, ladies and gentlemen.

Something must have gone well in these tests, because this week I received an email saying:

Congratulations! You are now one of 200 candidates.

And then I prepared for the fourth step

Step four:

A pre-recorded video-interview

Forget about personal interviews. In our digital world, a stable internet connection is all you need.

It’s a strange situation, getting ready for an interview over webcam. The first thing I did was make sure I looked presentable. For a moment I considered whether it was truly necessary to put on pants.

It is. Always put pants on before a interview.

tenor

The link directed me to a webpage for an online interview. The interview was made up of 13 pre-recorded questions. As soon as one question had been asked, I got 30 seconds to prepare an answer and then reply to my webcam for 2 minutes.

Although the questions were recorded by a real-life person, it was kind of strange to argue my case to my computer. And then of course, I could see my own camera reflection, which sometimes makes me self-conscious. So instead, I focused my look straight into the camera and imagined the person behind it.

It was a very interesting and fun experience. It challenged me to think of qualified answers under pressure. And I’m always up for a good challenge.

Now comes the hard part: Waiting for a reply.

Considering the very competitive nature of this process, there’s a good chance I may not make it to the next step. So, I will keep my expectations low. But it’s been a lot of fun so far and I have learned a lot about myself. And hey – making it to round four is not half bad! Let’s see what happens.

Until next time,

My