Last summer I spent a few days in Copenhagen, Denmark with my family. There was something about the city and the Danish that I couldn’t put my finger on at first. Later I realized what it was – everyone just seemed so happy!
For those of you who don’t know, for almost 40 years Denmark has been rated as the world’s happiest country by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). I definitely felt it when we were there.
I’ve long been a student of happiness and a student of parenting, so when I heard of the book The Danish Way of Parenting – A Guide to Raising the Happiest Children in the World, by Jessica Alexander and Iben Dissing Sandahl, I knew I had to get it. It’s one of my books on the 10 Books To Read in 2016 Checklist.
The premise of the book is that the reason Danes are so happy is due to their upbringing. There are certain things that Danish parents do that lead to their children being such happy adults.
I’m currently in the middle of the book, which talks about 6 major things that Danish parents do that leads to happier kids. One thing in particular really struck me – Danish parents don’t just tell their kids stories with happy endings. In fact, many Danish stories are tragedies.
Here in the United States we are somewhat maniacal about needing our kids’ stories to have happy endings. I remember an uproar on Facebook when Big Hero 6 came out. One person was calling for an end to kids movies where there is a death. “Why do kids need to be reminded about death?!?” she asked. It’s viewed as terrible to make kids experience sad or tragic stories.
Hans Christian Anderson, the fairy-tale writer, is one of Denmark’s most famous writers. Many of his stories had dark endings. For example, unlike Disney’s Little Mermaid, in the original Little Mermaid, the little mermaid does not end up happily married to the prince. Rather, the prince marries someone else and she turns into sea foam from sadness. The Little Mermaid is definitely not the only fairy tale that’s been sanitized for kids: here are some other fairy tales that Disney made into happy endings that are really not very happy at all.
In the United States we feel that children should be spared these darker aspects of life.
According to the book’s authors, “Danes believe that tragedies and upsetting events are things we should talk about too. We learn more about character from our sufferings than our successes and therefore it’s important to examine all part of life.”
According to the authors and to researchers, watching or hearing sad or tragic stories leads to more happiness than watching movies with happy endings because it teaches kids (and adults) to be empathetic and have a deeper respect for humanity. It makes them appreciate the positive aspects in their own life more. It helps them to feel more grateful for the simple things in life – things that we could take for granted if we focused too much on the fairy-tale life.
I don’t know if the question I posed in the title is the correct question – “will watching unhappy stories turn my child into a happy adult?” Maybe the questions are more: “Do I help my child by shielding her from harsh stories?” “What would happen if I allowed my child to watch something sad and tragic and afterwards we discussed how that felt and what she could learn from it?” “What if we could look at a story that’s sad or tragic and find something good or positive from it?” That’s the Danish Way. They seem to be doing something right. Are you willing to try this?
If so, here’s another Hans Christian Anderson story that you can watch with your kids — the Little Match Girl. Please remember that this story does not have a happy ending. I watched it with my 7-year old and we had a good talk afterwards. I’d love to know how it goes for you.
Monick Paul Halm is the Chief Creative Officer at the Checklist Mom, and has made it her mission to empower women and moms to thrive in their lives, families, and career choices. She’s a busy mom of 3, certified life and career coach, yoga teacher and practitioner, and real estate investor. She’s a wearer of many hats, and juggler of many duties and loves connecting with our moms. You can connect with her on the Checklist Mom Facebook Page and on twitter as @thereikicoach.