Malene Rydahl: "What the Danes can teach us about happiness and living better lives"


Happiness expert Malene Rydahl visited the OECD on 24 February 2016, giving a talk and sharing insights from her book Heureux comme un danois ("as happy as a Dane"). Part of The Coffees of the Secretary-General series, you can read the complete transcript of Ms Rydahl’s presentation below. 

I am extremely happy to be here today, but to be honest, when Mario López-Roldán invited me to a meeting and suggested today’s conference, I actually said “no”. I said no based on the assumption that the experts at the OECD would know more about my topic than I do. Mario looked at me and he said “I believe you write about trust in your book?” and I said that is correct, and then he said “I am asking you right now to trust me, I invented the series of the Coffees of the Secretary-General and I know that you have great things to say. In your book, you say a lot of the things that we do here at the OECD, but you say them in a different way. You talk to different people and we are interested in that”. So I said yes and it is a big day for me and a great honour.

Last Wednesday was an equally big day for me because I met a teacher from an apprenticeship school in Saint Louis near Mulhouse who wrote to me about two months ago saying that he had read my book and had decided to teach it in his school to a group of children who don’t like reading books. So he came to Paris to see me and he had many questions to ask me about the Danish model. I asked him why do the children want to read my book if they do not want to read books? He said because you deliver it in a different way. This makes me very proud.

His last question was the one million dollar question that people always ask me : “are you happy?”. Of course they will ask me this question, I wrote a book about happiness, I come from one of the happiest countries in the world. My answer was the same as it is every time, “of course! Absolutely happy…some of the time.” In my case, most of the time, but definitely not all of the time. I think what is important here is that a country cannot give you a happiness model to make you happy all of the time, it is an illusion. A country can, in the best case scenario, give you a good base of well-being that you can build upon. Of course we have bad days and we have bad periods; and in that respect countries also have bad days and bad periods. And even though Denmark does well on these lists and in certain areas, you cannot ask from a country that it be perfect; there will be bad periods where you will say, “that doesn’t fit in with that model”. Unfortunately that is the truth.

I am going to develop on the dangerous illusion of permanent happiness. I do think it’s dangerous and I do think that the media–and all of us–are a little bit responsible about this. What I will talk about today are some of the main reasons why the Danish model works and why people seem to be expressing, repeatedly over the past 40 years, that they are satisfied in life and that they have a good base of well-being.

I am going to talk to you about three things: trust, the freedom to be you and individual responsibility for the common project.

Get the full transcript here

Short biography

Malene Rydahl is the author of the book Heureux comme un danois published by Grasset in France in April 2014. The book became a best-seller and was awarded the prize of the most optimistic book in 2014. It has been published in Korea, Taiwan, Japan and will be published in Russia and Turkey.

Malene Rydahl was born in Denmark in 1975. After 18 years of rich and extensive experience in the corporate world, most recently as Director of Corporate Communication for Hyatt Hotels & Resorts in Europe, Africa and Middle East, she is now a full-time writer and speaker. She wants to share the secret of what the Danes can teach us about happiness and how we can all live better, more purposeful lives.

She has been part of the advisory committee for the Positive Economy Forum since 2012, an initiative led by Jacques Attali under the sponsorship of the President of the French Republic. She is also part of the advisory board for Europe Tomorrow, a movement for environmental and social innovations.

Malene Rydahl is partner in a start-up company called 42° Raw, a new healthy vegan fast food concept with four current restaurants in Copenhagen. The company is about to further expand with future openings in Europe. In 2012, the French news magazine L'Express named her amongst the 24 women of the year and in 2014 she was appointed Goodwill Ambassador of Copenhagen.

In 2015, she embarked on an Asian tour to promote her book in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. She also furthered her research on the different Asian cultures and concepts of happiness. During this tour she also delivered a TEDx talk in Singapore on “Planting seeds of happiness the Danish way!”

She is now working on her next book which addresses the illusions of happiness.

Malene Rydahl lives in Paris but travels all over the world.


©OECD Observer March 2016

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