What is happiness?1 How do you create it in your own life?2 And why are the Danish people so much happier than the rest of us?3 Should we live like them?4
This is the great, existential question that our hygge-obsessed Western culture has been asking itself for roughly half a decade now. And Ikea Denmark has decided to weigh in with a six-part miniseries called Home of Happiness. Starring two everyday people seeking happiness for themselves—a young woman named Yaya Ching from Hong Kong and Chicagoan Roy Torres—the pair of strangers actually won a contest to live (awkwardly!) together in an Ikea-gasm apartment in Copenhagen while interviewing different Danes about what makes them so happy.
It’s about 40 minutes full of big wine glasses, big bike baskets, big pastries, and big, blond toddlers. You can watch it right on YouTube! I tried. I really did. I drew a bath, pulled up the series on my phone, and tried to really get into the spirit of happy living. I made it three episodes in before I pulled the plug.
Sorry, but giving up on this assignment was my form of hygge.
That said, I think I got the point quickly enough. The episodes each highlight a celebrated effect of Danish public policy by interviewing someone who has greatly benefitted from it—inside lavishly, assumingly Ikea-laden spaces that imply the importance of good furniture by association. In one episode, a student shows off her tiny but neatly decorated container apartment, explaining that the government will pay her to go to school as long as she wishes. This is before she jumps off a nearby pier with Torres (who despite his own massive student loans, maintains a ripped physique). In another episode, Ching and Torres visit a group of new mothers, who’ve all been paired up by the government to meet and support one another.
“In Denmark, it’s quite common to leave your child outside when they’re sleeping in the stroller, then you can go inside and have coffee and eat,” one woman explains, as the group approaches an unmarked brick building. Then they go inside to a toddler “gym class” in a place that looks a lot like an empty coffee shop—where they sit around a table and have coffee.
Back at the apartment, debriefing about the day, Ching clutches at what looks to be a mimosa while thinking about the moms. She explains how in Hong Kong, so many women her age aren’t having children, because they don’t feel like they can afford to.
“When I look at them, all I can think of is happy moms and happy babies. Because I do believe a happy mom makes happy babies,” she says.
“So what did you think about her apartment?” Torres jumps in, perhaps cajoled by producers to get back to the furniture already.
If 20-something minutes of Ikea’s documentary on happiness taught me anything, it’s that buying a Billy bookshelf may make my home look more Danish, but it won’t do anything to make my government act more Danish. And the promise of happiness is something that no product company should claim it can sell you, no matter what part of the world it hails from.
1 It’s spending time with family and friends.
2 Move close to and stay close to people you love.
3 Many experts believe they aren’t. In reality, Scandinavian citizens may be filling out polls on happiness knowing they’re supposed to be living in happy countries, and so they self-report higher than average happiness rates to live up to expectations. Furthermore, depression and mental health issues are a real problem in this region of the world. Binge drinking, intolerance for immigration, and unemployment are other concerns that go underreported, too.
4 Universal healthcare and maternity support do seem like good ideas though!