Originally a self-professed ‘Hindu-American princess’ fuelled by platinum credit cards and designer labels, author Sharmi Albrechtsen explains that she once regarded financial success and expensive possessions as the key to life satisfaction. But it wasn’t until she relocated to Denmark with her ex-husband in 1997 that she began to question her ways. Now over a decade later, Albrechtsen has moved on to her second Danish spouse and claims to have traded her materialist habits and stilettos for social welfare, hygge and practical shoes.
Perplexed by the habits of the ‘happiest nation in the world’, Albrechtsen has been investigating the phenomenon of Danish life satisfaction since she moved to the country, and she has now compiled her findings in a new book, A Piece of Danish Happiness. She hypothesises that while the welfare state and social benefits certainly aid the Danes’ life satisfaction, they are merely a superficial layer of a person’s happiness, not an integral aspect. Instead, she suggests that at the heart of Danish happiness actually lies a strong sense of self and the Danish jantelov.
Divided into two parts, the first section of the book details the author’s early years abroad using humorous and often charming anecdotes from Albrechtsen’s marriage to her first Danish husband. Albrechtsen writes with a sincerity and honesty that make her difficult to relate to (especially when detailing her extravagant shopping trips in central Copenhagen or admitting that she simply doesn’t take public transport), but this affords the book a unique sense of honesty. Arguably, these stories are some of the strongest parts of the book: Albrechtsen’s honesty is amusing and endearing, and her personal experiences tend to leave out the cultural generalisations the rest of the book falls prey to.
Albrechtsen then launches into a second section analysing the ‘weird but happy Danes’ after a divorce and financial ruin awaken her to the error of her materialistic ways. While Albrechtsen’s relaxed writing style worked well when discussing her own personal history, the second half of the book often feels disjointed, as if numerous shorter sections have been woven together.
Indeed, A Piece of Danish Happiness was largely compiled from posts in Albrechtsen’s blog, but the transitions between chapters leave the book’s latter half lacking coherence. The piece would have benefited from a more structured organisation strategy to establish a pattern between the author’s anecdotes, research and cultural information. As it is, the style often leaves the reader without a sense of where they are.
In any case, the author maintains an amiable sense of sincerity throughout the book, and the organisational issues of the second half would probably be solved with a thorough edit. Her research provides an enlightening and entertaining read, especially for those intrigued by Scandinavian lifestyle or baffled by how the world’s greyest countries manage to consistently rank as the happiest. Furthermore, Albrechtsen’s positive attitude and refusal to take herself (or the stone-faced Danes she encounters) too seriously provide a useful example for many disgruntled expats or anyone hoping to rejuvenate their lifestyle. For those looking for a witty memoir coupled with psychological research and amusing analyses, look no further than A Piece of Danish Happiness.
A Piece of Danish Happiness by Shami Albrechtsen
Find out more about the author at her blog at www.happydenmark.com