Somewhere in the insignificant outskirts of Silkeborg in the middle of Jutland a small hump on the ground rises just above the treetops. 147 metres (482 ft) of elevated grassland offer a greyish-green and semi-pointy excrescence to the otherwise flat and featureless horizon.
Now, in other countries anyone passing by would probably just make a mental note about this hill being a practical way to get a good view of the surroundings if your dog ran away or you were being attacked by the Romans.
In Denmark, when the guy in charge of naming places came strolling by at the beginning of time, he apparently got so struck with awe at the sight of this coincidental pile-up of clay, that he named it Himmelbjerget – ‘Sky Mountain’ in English. That says a lot.
That’s how Danes interpret the concept of ambition. In other cultures ambition is perceived as the urge to follow your dreams. To imagine things for yourself and make an effort to bring them to life. For Danes, being ambitious is the ability to avoid the experience of change in any way, shape or form. ‘Doing what I’ve always done for as long as I like!’ is the fuel that keeps the Dane running.
There’s a bit of a causality vortex here. Are the Danes unambitious because they live on flat lands and therefore are seldom met with the presence of high altitudes, or do they consciously keep clear of more varied landscapes because the miniscule variations of green for as far as their eyes can see confirm their view of the world? I honestly don’t know.
But I do know that Danes consider themselves the happiest people on earth. It has been articulated in many a global survey over the years. And I think that the Himmelbjerget effect offers some of the explanation for this.
One of the questions that happiness scientists ask all over the world is this:
Suppose the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder the worst possible life. Where on this ladder do you feel you personally stand at the present time if the ladder has 10 steps?
The value for Denmark hits the absolute top of the list with a clean 8, the average of all the countries in the world being 6.25. So that’s how Danes have become so happy: we really don’t expect much. Taking your hands out of your pockets and reaching for things that are right in front of you equals reaching for the sky. And anything more ambitious than that is just ruthless egoism.
Actually, Himmelbjerget offers another little treat for metaphor lovers. The truth about this hill is that it’s not even a hill. It’s a false hill. There is no elevation of the ground going on here. Himmelbjerget has become Himmelbjerget because of the eroding of the surroundings, not by its own upwardly-mobile aspirations.
Ever wondered why Danes are so busy mocking other cultures than their own?