Sky Mountain

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.

world-according-to-danes

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?

By Peter Andreas • May 11, 2009
Categories: , , , ,


16 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Posted May 12, 2009 at 1:53 pm by Ebbe | Permalink

    Any ideas of what we are to do about these unproductive ‘Doing what I’ve always done for as long as I like!’ and ‘Taking your hands out of your pockets and reaching for the things that’s right in front of you equals reaching for the sky. And anything more ambitious than that, is just ruthless egoism.’ attitudes?

  2. Posted May 13, 2009 at 12:34 pm by Canadian in DK | Permalink

    Related historical texts:

    - Wollstonecraft, Mary, 1759-1797
    Letters on Sweden, Norway, and Denmark
    http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/3529

    - Robert Molesworth
    An account of Denmark, 1692
    http://www.constitution.org/cmt/molesworth/denmark.htm
    (search for: “a road they have been accustomed to” and “no Enthusiasts, Mad-men, Natural Fools”)

    Denmark, on the front edge of development? Hmm….

  3. Posted May 14, 2009 at 11:23 am by Canadian in DK | Permalink

    From Wollstonecraft, Mary, 1759-1797:
    “The men of business are domestic tyrants, coldly immersed in their own affairs, and so ignorant of the state of other countries, that they dogmatically assert that Denmark is the happiest country in the world”

  4. Posted May 17, 2009 at 4:48 pm by Paula Jota Pedersen | Permalink

    I must say I am addicted to your blog! You are the first Dane I have encountered who can actually look further than their “thoughtful” comparisons of Denmark and the third world. You know how tired us foreigners are of hearing: “Denmark is not that bad. Look at Africa” or “at least we have free health care?” ;-/

  5. Posted May 19, 2009 at 8:14 am by Canadian in DK | Permalink

    Another interesting man is Rune Engelbreth. See his blog on Politiken’s Web site (in Danish):
    http://blog.politiken.dk/engelbreth/

  6. Posted May 25, 2009 at 12:00 pm by Heidi aka Fuzzy | Permalink

    Bravo Peter! Like Paula, I too am addicted to your blog.

    Would it be okay if I contact you regarding an initiative I’d like to get underway here in Denmark? I suspect it may appeal to you, and even more importantly, I can think of no other Danish writer more qualified to tackle it than you.

    Feel free to email me at the address I’ve entered in this form.

  7. Posted May 26, 2009 at 12:04 am by babs | Permalink

    I have difficulty believing you ARE Danish. What happened to you? Are there more like you?

  8. Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:44 pm by David Madsen | Permalink

    stunning
    You seem to curse a people ultimately happy with what they have.
    Being an American of Danish heritage, we in the American middle class are swamped
    by the the unadulterated excess of ego manifesting itself in the
    near destruction of whole parts of our society. This country could learn
    a lot from Denmark.

  9. Posted June 20, 2009 at 8:51 am by Paula | Permalink

    I think you are the first Dane I have seen who can make such a deep critique of your society. I am impressed.

  10. Posted June 28, 2009 at 8:13 pm by Canadian in DK | Permalink

    60 Minutes made an excellent story about this very subject. You can see it here:
    http://atlantis2.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=3841772n

    For Danes, being happy means being content, being secure, and keeping expectations realistic (fairly low). :-)

  11. Posted September 5, 2009 at 11:49 am by NoWomanNoCry | Permalink

    wow. A Dane who doesn’t think Denmark is perfect. You are a rare species. ;-) Imponerende!

  12. Posted May 23, 2010 at 10:49 am by chris | Permalink

    holy crap you are my new hero! and to see there are so many other foreigners living in denmark who feel the way i do… how uplifting!

  13. Posted December 14, 2011 at 3:28 am by anomynous | Permalink

    I am a dane, i am not here to criticize, but i do get your points to some of the stuff, but honestly, there isn’t much to reach for when a lot is given, free healthcare, cheap school, yes we have high taxes, but it could be worse. I feel Denmark is just a more accepting country, i’ve lived in 5 different countries, and yet whenever I’m in Denmark, I just smile all the time. I currently live in America and I don’t go around smiling for no reason, I just don’t feel the same kind of happiness, everyone worries about everything, where as danish people just take things as it goes, does that make danish people happy? yes. Does it make them any better? No. So being called the happiest country isn’t a bad thing, and honestly it isn’t the worst thing either,it just shows the difference in cultures.

  14. Posted January 23, 2012 at 12:49 am by KPTheDane | Permalink

    yeah I always liked skamlingsbanken better.

  15. Posted February 3, 2012 at 5:11 pm by Daniel | Permalink

    I am a dane by birth, although my father is Lebanese & my mother is from the UK. I have lived in Denmark, Singapore, Ireland, UK, Germany and Holland. And to some extent I do agree with you. I never understood why we were graded happiest people in the world.. They must only have asked the elite. I tend to agree that danes can be somewhat arrogant, closedminded and so forth. I do however NOT agree that danes are not ambitious. I am, and most people I know are. I have 2 master degrees, I would call that kinda ambitious. We have something here called the “jantelov” And I think it is so deeply imprinted in the danes minds, that it comes of as unambitious. I am danish by birth, but I have a very NON danish mentality, and would rather not live here. The ambition level some speak off, especially Americans, can for some danes be interpeted as greed, as Americans do tend to take it to far, so far that to a dane it looks like greed. Now it saddens me to see people so unhappy with Denmark and danes, as I find it to be gross stereotyping. People have to remember that people do not always think alike! (thank god) We could also talk about how Americans are super, SUPERFICIAL and selfish for the most part. Or how they war everyone they do not agree with? Or the way the English behavee abroad? All Nationalities have good and bad things about them. But again, I do agree, that on a governmental level Denmark is very unambitious and very beurocratic, not rigerous at all. Also a little reminder, that people not happy living here, are not forced to stay:)

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Downsides Of Denmark

Peter Andreas

43-year-old ad man. Very disappointed with his country and people.