“Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”
- Hans Christian Anderson
A grey sky meets a grey ocean. They are so much the same shade that the early morning swimmers appear to be swimming in the sky instead. Today, the Baltic Sea is licked by winds and it is raining. This is a kind of rain that doesn’t exist anywhere else that I have been. It is a rain so light that it is more like liquid snow. The droplets are not heavy enough to fall fast and they are so tiny, it looks more like static moving downward through the air.
In the rest of the world, when you think of Denmark, despite its Viking history, you don’t think of ocean. And you certainly don’t think of beaches where people lie topless or naked in the sand, soaking up the summer sun. And yet, Denmark is almost entirely surrounded by water. The Baltic Sea to the East and the North Sea to the West, which are both inlets for the Atlantic Ocean. In fact, upon coming here, I have learned that Denmark is often referred to as the “Cold Hawaii” because of its incredible surfing conditions.
I came to Copenhagen, Denmark to host a synchronization workshop here. Earlier this year, when we did a poll to see what cities the people of Europe most wanted me to make an appearance in, Copenhagen was right near the top of the list. So, despite being fresh out of emergency surgery, I came here and stepped out onto the stage. But not before taking some considerable time to examine this place and its people.
I was no more than a few steps out of the airplane upon arrival when a man offered me a sample of a ball of licorice that he was selling and that he was obviously very proud of. So, I took it and ate it, merely as a sign of good will. I walked a hundred more steps past him before realizing that whatever he had given me, was one of the best things I have ever tasted in my life. So, I did what any sensible person would do… I backtracked and bought some for everyone I know to try. Licorice is an interesting flavor. No matter how many times you eat it, it sets in slow and unassuming and simple. Then progressively, your perception of it changes. It becomes complex and overwhelmingly pleasurable. Denmark is to licorice as Switzerland is to chocolate. The Danes are absolutely obsessed with it. This obsession leads them to do things like cover things in salted licorice powder that should never be covered in licorice powder. But it also led them to being able to claim that they make the best licorice candy in the world. Not that they would ever boast about it. The Danes have an extreme aversion to demonstrating self-pride and to talking about one’s own achievements, goals, ambitions, possessions or abilities.
Denmark is a small, homogenous culture. The Danes are not unkind or unwelcoming in any way. But it is obvious that they are concerned with negative influences from the outside. And being here around the locals, you can feel the desire to preserve the Danish way or life and the Danish way of doing things. But the Danish way of life and the Danish way of doing things is not in the big things. It’s in the little things, like putting the right combination of toppings on top of one of their traditional open face sandwiches. And like making sure to be rational instead of emotional and to give more than you take. And like riding a bike instead of driving a car.
It is always interesting to me how much modern-day culture is influenced by religions of the past. And Denmark is one of the best examples of this. Despite being overwhelmingly atheist in its modern expression, its cultural roots are heavily embedded in the Lutheran religion. And most modern-day citizens have no idea that the Danish cultural values are as Lutheran as they come. The belief that underpins this culture is that God gave free will to man and that it is each man’s duty to exercise his or her free will in the pursuit of holiness. This cultural bedrock has definitively shaped the Danish cultural values. It is introverted, down to earth and marked by profound realism. The Danes value things like reason, rationality, pragmatism, the here and now, responsibility, privacy, equality, quiet, humility, diligence, respect, honesty, punctuality and work-life balance.
The mental field is particularly dominant amongst the Danish. It is a culture of the mind as opposed to of the spirit or of emotions or of the physical form. As such, the people here fall into both the positive and negative expressions of being so mentally oriented. They are curious, ever liberal, open-minded thinkers. Hans Christian Anderson (the author of The Little Mermaid, The Ugly Duckling, The Little Match Girl, The Princess and the Pea, and The Snow Queen) is from Denmark. And they are inventors. In fact, Bluetooth, Lego and Insulin were all invented here. Hopefully, this mental aptitude will cause them to be amused by the following energy diagnosis for Copenhagen:
As for Copenhagen itself, the dominant negative vibration of the city is: Lackluster. A kind of dullness created by a lack of intensity. I have a feeling that this is a Danish shadow that applies to more than just Copenhagen. What creates this vibration is a society with very sober and socialist values and priorities, managing to control life so as to avoid all things that feel intense. There is very little stress in this society. All the basics are provided… food, shelter, transportation, education, healthcare etc. It is a resource container. Crime is low and nonviolent. In combination all this can lead to the creation of an existence that is inflicted with a kind of perpetual “flatness”. Flatness in people’s personalities, flatness in their life experience. A mundane, normal averageness that is void of excitement and enthusiasm. People are mostly laid back and content. And nothing extreme ever happens. It can be that people are kind of sleep walking through life, forgetting that life is meant to be fully lived and really living implies really feeling and really experiencing; which implies intensity.
Many people here are attached to predictability and planning to an extreme level, so that nothing goes “wrong”. Nakedness is something that belongs at the beach… it is not something that applies to exposure of one’s emotions. And this creates an introverted, clean emotional coldness in the social atmosphere. To generalize, the Danes are kind people. Which is why it is so strange that they also have a kind of social shell. A distant, reserved, impersonal demeanor. And as such, it is difficult to become intimate or ‘close’ with them. They are concerned with and respectful of personal space and with minding their own business. Denmark would be one of the hardest places to make new friends. As we would say in America, they are a “hard nut to crack”. When I am here, I feel the urge to walk around shaking people and giving them “noogies” (affectionately grinding the top of a person’s head and messing up their hair with your knuckles) so as to try to break through the unbearable, un-reactive social stiffness.
The dominant positive vibration of Copenhagen is: Soft Power. Soft power is bringing about the outcomes you want by persuading and building relationships that invite collaboration and cooperation. And the people of Copenhagen are masters at it. They co-opt rather than to coerce. Soft Power is the art of diplomacy, constructive agreement, negotiation and building trust. To achieve this, a person has to learn how to think and communicate so as to get other people to choose to be on board in pursuit of a goal. When someone uses soft power, they shape the preferences of others through appeal and attraction and information. Developing expertise, skill, credibility and competence are important elements of Soft Power. There must be reciprocity for power to be soft.
This being the dominant positive vibration, what it means is that the people here do what it takes to build trust. They find solutions that are mutually beneficial. They create opportunities that are useful to one another. They define a problem and bring attention to solutions in a way that attracts supporters to the cause. They put forth patient and consistent effort towards their goals. They discuss and negotiate and make others think instead of resorting to the hard power strategy of controlling others and imposing their will on others with ‘carrots and sticks’. And they employ a huge degree of respect. It is important to know that respect is the vibrational runner up for the positive vibration of Copenhagen.
In alignment with this tendency towards soft power, there is a flat power structure in Denmark. It is not palpably hierarchical. The people here tend to omit last names and titles entirely, which is fascinating because this is a country that still possesses a Danish monarchy.
Soft Power is often not perceived as power at all. Therefore, this dominant positive vibration is very easy to underestimate, if not overlook entirely. But the Danes understand that the hard power that is exerted by so many other people of the world is not a long-term solution. They understand that people don’t like being controlled. That hard power often gives a false sense of control. They understand that exerting one’s will over others invites them to resist, evade and fake compliance by breaking the rules secretly and in creative ways. And most of all, they understand that hard power comes with the shadow of corruption.
Here in Denmark, there is a serenity and a peace and a relaxed order that is rare to behold in a place where human beings congregate. Because of their commitment to honesty, they are straightforward people. To generalize, they believe in the companies they buy from, they believe in their government and they believe in each other. They believe that others are what they seem to be. They trust the people around them to be both decent and good. And as a result of this, they trust. They trust to a level that makes those of us that aren’t Danish nervous. They often leave their doors unlocked. And it is common to see baby strollers outside of a store with babies asleep in them without a parent to be seen. With this high degree of trust, there is no reason to fear. In this way, trust makes the need for control vanish. And when control vanishes, you are left with energy to put towards other things. Things that feel good. It is this trust people enjoy, in conjunction with the fact that people’s basic needs are covered here, in conjunction with the values that the people here hold (and therefore prioritize their life according to) that makes Denmark consistently rank as one of the world’s happiest countries.
But mental illness is a genuine struggle here. And any time there is pressure to feel good, like there is in Denmark, feeling bad can be an intensely isolating experience. According to statistics, one in five Danes will experience a mental health crisis in a given year. There is a high degree of emotional neglect that the people struggle from. And this is not helped by the fact that in the winters, the daylight hours are so incredibly short. And even though there are daylight hours, there is hardly any sun. Instead, it is dismal, grey, dark and cold. Which is not conducive to human health. Of course the Danes love to counter this by saying: “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing”.
Speaking of trust, upon arrival to the seaside Air B and B we rented here in Copenhagen, we were surprised to find a little note that said: Welcome to our home, we hope you enjoy the visit, please feed the cat. Before coming here, we had not been told that there would be a resident cat in the house. It was unthinkable that someone would trust a beloved pet to strangers. But because of that blind trust, I have been savoring the complete pleasure of having a cuddly, long haired, ticked tabby cat purring on my lap whenever I sit down for the last four days. These moments with the cat and these moments where I have been topless in the sun with the Baltic Ocean lapping the shore, are the epitome of the Danish word Hygge (pronounced Hue-Gah).
Hygge is an experience… A feeling experience. And the Danes value whatever brings about that experience. It is a felt-experience that occurs when you enjoy the special appeal of simple, pleasurable, especially cozy moments when everything just feels right in the here and now and you feel safe, warm and happy. Hygge is traditionally attributed to the Scandinavian experience of finding warmth and shelter and food after a long day out working in the freezing cold. However, Hygge applies to all kinds of simple pleasures, not just to those attributed to the winter time. For example, it might be in that moment when the summer temperature at night is perfect and you are lying in bed with the city lights sparkling off in the distance, while reading a book to your child after all the tasks are done and everyone is taken care of. Or it may be on that cold winter day, when you are snuggled up in a blanket with the fire crackling in the background, holding a warm cup of tea and watching the snow fall outside the window while you are socializing with all of your closest friends. Hygge is a kind of art form relative to living. These simple moments of complete pleasure in presence in the here and now. A sense of fulfillment and wellbeing. The Danes know how to see the special in the ordinary and indulge in the simple pleasures that are all around them. To turn things astrological, Hygge would be the mastery and value system of the Taurus. It makes life in Denmark simple and down to earth, a place where pleasure is found in the little things, like the flicker of candle light; which can be seen in homes here year-round. Or in the multitude of different ways that they have come up with to eat carrots. It is a place where people believe fully in the idea that work is not life. And as such, there must be a work-life balance.
The Danes have some serious medicine to share with the rest of the human race. From their mastery of soft power to their exemplary licorice to their understanding of Hygge. I have taken in this medicine for a week now. And I believe their famous writer, Hans Christian Anderson, put it so well… “The whole world is a series of miracles, but we're so used to them we call them ordinary things.”