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Denmark: Highest Tax Rate and Happiest People. Why?

Ever wondered why Denmark is the happiest country…but they also have the highest tax rate? Denmark taxes and happiness – let's dig into this.

Most of us don’t like paying taxes because it is more money out of our pockets.

This can be especially true if we do not believe in the types of policies or programs our tax money is funding. Because of this, you would think that the country with the highest tax rate in the world would have the most miserable people, right?

It turns out that Denmark has the highest tax rate in the world with a 41.9% tax-to-GDP ratio (PDF) (in 2023, Denmark's federal tax rate was 56%).  In comparison, India’s tax-to-GDP ratio is 6.1%, Japan’s is 34.1% (PDF), and the United States is 16.4%.

But there is something else Denmark – the country that brought us Hygge – is known for being the happiest country in the world. Isn’t that interesting?

Why is Denmark so happy…especially given how much they pay in taxes?

Every year, the Danish work until June 17th in order to pay their tax burden.  In comparison, the United States Tax Freedom Day is April 9th.

Even though the Danish must work two entire extra months out of the year just to pay their tax burden – half the year in total – they are happier than we are as a whole.

In other words, happiness or lack thereof cannot be dictated by the amount of taxes paid (unless it increases the Danish people’s happiness to pay taxes).

Happiness also is not dictated by money alone: while Denmark is a wealthy country – Denmark’s current GDP per capita is $68,007.76 – Norway has a much higher GDP per capita of $89,154.28, yet ranked 7th in terms of happiness, not first.

So if both tax burden and GDP are not indicators of happiness, then what are?

Main Indicators of Happiness

It turns out there are several different ways to quantify the happiness of a nation.

In 2006 the University of Leicester undertook a study that combined both economics and psychology in order to find out which countries were the happiest in the world. Analysis showed that,

“a nation's level of happiness was most closely associated with health levels (correlation of .62), followed by wealth (.52), and then provision of education (.51)”.

Denmark ranked No. 1, and the United States came in at 23rd on the world’s first-ever “World Map of Happiness”. (Update: as of 2023, Denmark now ranks #2, and the United States now ranks 15th).

This study was followed by a University of Cambridge study in 2007 that showed the Danish as the happiest people in Europe. The Cambridge study concludes that,

“[o]ne of the most consistent trends is that those with the highest levels of happiness also reported the highest levels of trust in their governments, the police and the justice system, as well as those around them. Happier people also tended to have plenty of friends and acquaintances, as well as at least one very close friend, or a partner.”

A final study was conducted in 2009 by the OECD (Organization of Economic Co-Operation and Development) and once again Denmark was named the happiest country. This study was based on “subjective well-being, defined as life satisfaction”, and asked the question,

“D[o] people feel like their lives [a]re dominated by positive experiences and feelings, or negative ones?”

How Can We Increase Our Happiness as a Nation?

I can say with certainty that happiness is not based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the amount of our tax burden alone.

Most of us have limited resources and know that the lack of money can make us pretty miserable around bill-paying time.

The same is true if we owe the IRS a lot of money and April comes around.

However, gobs of money and low tax burdens do not have a strong correlation to true happiness.

As listed above, some of the studies showed that trust in government, health, wealth (enough to be comfortable), and education are all good indicators of happiness, and are all prevalent in Denmark. This begs the question as to why Americans are not higher up on the ‘happy chain’.

If we take the same indicators used in the studies above, we can start to see why we may be lacking in happiness. Overall, there is a growing distrust of government in the United States.

Nearly 1/3 of Americans are obese, and diabetes and heart disease are also affecting our overall health. There is also a prevailing cultural obsession with those who are wealthier than us (keeping up with our neighbors and idolizing celebrities), and with consumerism, both of which can lead to discontent and to a lot of debt.

We’ll need to start tackling these issues before we can beat Denmark at the happiness game.

What do you think are indicators of happiness? How do you think Americans can improve their happiness as a nation?

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Amanda L Grossman

Personal Finance Writer and CEO at Frugal Confessions, LLC
Amanda L. Grossman is a writer and Certified Financial Education Instructor, Plutus Foundation Grant Recipient, and founder of Frugal Confessions. Over the last 13 years, her money work has helped people with how to save money and how to manage money. She's been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Kiplinger, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, Business Insider, LifeHacker, Real Simple Magazine, Woman's World, Woman's Day, ABC 13 Houston, Keybank, and more. Read more here or on LinkedIn.


Thursday 9th of June 2016

It's easy to throw out a happiness ranking without really finding out if people ARE in fact feeling happy. The study defines "happiness" as three "quantifiable" elements. In that case, sheep, turkeys, and cows could easily be defined as "happy" when on a farm receiving regular medical treatment, good food etc... Before they become food for us. Our founding document which I believe is the Declaration of Independence defines happiness as something we have to pursue. It is not something given or granted to a person. The point about drug use to overcome depression also should be a factor in examining if people are intrinsically happy or just "defined" as happy by extrinsic partisan studies.


Tuesday 29th of March 2016

If they are so happy, why is the suicide rate so high?

Steve Laurin

Saturday 27th of February 2016

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/nov/20/antidepressant-use-rise-world-oecd They sure had quite a surge in anti-depressant usage for being such happy people.

Joel Hackbart

Thursday 24th of March 2016

There will, in any society, be a subset of unhappy people. Ironically, these people, while in a minority, have much greater envy issues when they see so many others happy, which in turn only compounds their depression.

David sandwell

Saturday 17th of October 2015

Try measuring a country's worth by just how many people want to get it or leave it! Does Denmark have problems with tons of folks trying to get in? US does, gee I wonder why????

Joel Hackbart

Thursday 24th of March 2016

For one, it may be somewhat easier to cross the Rio Grande than to swim to Denmark.


Saturday 15th of August 2015

Hi, I was wondering if Denmark is one of the countries to ban Monsanto and GMOs. Here in the US, people would have a hard time paying for things like organic food and holistic family Dr's and dentists if we got taxed that much. It seems like there would be less of a sick-care burden on their society if consuming higher quality nutrition was more of the norm there, than it is here in the US. Also I'm wondering if they have access to holistic and naturopathic medical providers or if they only have access to mainstream ones. It also seems like there would be less of a burden on the health system if the healthcare they used focused more on healing people than on pharmaceutical drug sales. This would be a very important issue for our family.