All photographs by Enas El Masry.
“Hello. Is this Enas El Masry?” a phone call interrupted my already slow day at work. “I would like to inform you that you have been accepted to the journalism summer school program to take place this August in Copenhagen.”
Quite gracefully, I thanked the lady on the other side of the phone, and hung up. Seconds later, I stormed through the shared workspace squeaking and stomping my feet, telling my friends that not only was I finally accepted to anything, but that I was also going on a week-long, fully-funded trip to Copenhagen, Denmark.
Unlike preparing my previous trips which I had to plan from A to Z, I found little to no reason to diligently research my destination, partially because I was busy trying to finish all my tasks before the travel date – which I naturally didn’t – and because part of me wanted to bear no expectations, and just enjoy the trip for what it unfolds into.
By the time we had started to land, the idea was finally sinking in that I was at the doorstep of the runner-up happiest country in the world.
At the passport control, I took a deep breath as I walked down the ‘other passports’ lane, anticipating the regular suspicious looks that usually accompany the inspection of my feeble Egyptian passport. To my surprise, the passport control officer casually skimmed through my passport, stamped it, smiled at me, and welcomed me to Denmark. On this note, I let out a sigh of relief, and looked forward to a friendly week.
For a cold country that barely enjoys an average of 62 days of sunshine per year, and that speaks a very complex, unflattering language, the Danes I came across proved to be some of the warmest, most inviting people I have yet met. Besides the fact that almost everyone on the street speaks really good English – which made navigating the city super easy – my inquiries were always met with fervent enthusiasm to help me.
With classes and field visits consuming my daytime, come afternoon, I had enough time to explore the city, but not enough time to explore its sites. While this may have been problematic at other European cities that fall into a deep slumber shortly after sunset, nights in Copenhagen were a fine balance between the Parisian hype and the Zurichian calm.
Most of the time, I would wander the city aimlessly without GPS aid, following my heart through streets I’d never walked before, secretly hoping I would get lost and discover new places. As a Cairene biker, it was very uplifting to see endless streaks of bikers who looked fresh and energetic inside out.
Matching the bright aura circling the Danes is the city’s architecture which is a flattering, colourful mixture of styles spanning medieval, renaissance, baroque, rococo, and contemporary, which made a mere walk through the city a visual bliss.
Back in Cairo, I had plenty of stories and pictures to share, but I still didn’t have a clear answer as to why Denmark was the happiest country in the world for several years in a row. I mean, it’s beautiful and all, but it certainly isn’t the liveliest or the most thrilling.
Like anyone younger than 90 would do, I turned to the all-knowing Google for answers. Turns out it’s not that I didn’t know the answer; I just needed to connect the dots.
Echoing what the Zen teachings would say, it’s the little, yet fundamental things that make Denmark such a happy place to live. Overarching the Danish record of happiness is what they call hygge (pronounce hue-guh) which does not really have an equivalent in English, but generally means finding joy, magic, cosiness and warmth in the little moments with friends, family, and loved ones.
Stemming from hygge, the Danes are quite aware of the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, whereby children and parents get to spend enough time together. Simple as this concept may be, it infiltrates so much in the Danish daily life, such as appreciating sunshine, or taking bike rides.
Other pivotal values such as gender equality and social solidarity also lie at the heart of Denmark’s success at remaining one of the happiest countries in the world.
If you’d like to virtually take a stroll through the streets of Copenhagen, scroll down for more pictures: