As I type, I’m on an inter-railing trip around Europe that started in Copenhagen. The thing that struck me the most about the Danish capital was just how nice the people are. When we first arrived, the bus driver announced our stop much further in advance than he needed to so we didn’t have to rush with all our luggage. I lost count of the amount of people who smiled at us in the street; one cyclist even stopped to let us cross when it was his right of way, throwing in a friendly smile as he did so. Living near Cambridge, I’m used to either being aggressively pinged at or simply flattened. A couple of homeless guys spoke to us on separate occasions, but were genuinely friendly and not at all begrudging when we couldn’t offer them any cash. In Copenhagen, there seemed to be an atmosphere of contentment. Indeed, Denmark ranked top in the 2013 World Happiness Report.
We’re told in 1 Peter 3:15 to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you the reason for the hope that you have”. In verse 16: “Good behaviour in Christ” is also mentioned, implying that this should be a symptom of such hope.
How do many of us actually display this hope, an underlying and overflowing joy that overcomes circumstances and surpasses understanding? Entire studies and books have been dedicated to questioning why the Danes are so happy. Take, for example, Hele Russell’s recent publication from earlier in the year A Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country.
Can you imagine if people saw such happiness in Christians, reflected in our treatment of others, and actually studied it? What if someone wrote a book on A Year of Living Christianly? What would they find? If we all made attempts to be more Danish, the effects could be astonishing. Danish happiness has been explained by specific circumstances, but Christians have so much more to be happy about than longer parental leave, good health care and commuting by bike rather than car. If Christians as a whole were regarded as happy, could it be explained by a set of earthly circumstances? Perhaps not, when globally we come from such a massive range of cultures and backgrounds that stretches even beyond the differences between the homeless and those with a roof over their heads.
The Danes’ happiness is partly linked to their concept of ‘hygge’. With no direct translation, it’s basically a cosy contentment used to get through winter; as Christians we have a hope that can conquer much more than a harsh Danish winter. If people looked at Christians and saw a hope that translated into a happiness matching, or even surpassing, that of the Danes, would they consider the possibility it might be something more? If we are to explain the hope we have, we first need to display that hope. Kindness and contentment, and indeed ‘good behaviour in Christ’, seem an ideal way of doing this.
We need to be more Danish; smile at people in the street, let a pedestrian cross when it’s your right of way, go out of your way to help someone and ask people how they are with genuine interest. Regardless of our views on more polemical topics, we are told that God is love, and He treats us with grace as well as justice. One of the best known Bible verses is the second great commandment, to “love your neighbour as yourself” – Mark 12:31. Indeed, the Danes’ happiness is also attributed to their sense of social responsibility and solidarity. If we are to be more Christ-like and live up to this commandment to which so many non-Christians compare our behaviour, I would say aiming to be a little more Danish could be a good place to start.