Cooperation and happiness go hand in hand

My father-in-law was a history professor whose special interest was Scandinavian life and civilization. American teachers often use humor to illustrate the subject at hand, and this joke was one he used to introduce the topic of perceived differences between people in the Nordic countries:

Eight survivors of a shipwreck–two Norwegians, two Danes, two Finns and two Swedes–were  found ten years later on a tropical island. When rescuers arrived, they found the two Danes had started a cooperative, the two Norwegians were fighting with each other, the Finns were in sauna, and the two Swedes were still waiting to be introduced.

I think the idea about the Finns in the sauna is very believable and that the Danes not would have been able to be in the same place for 10 years without starting a cooperative is absolutely true. The Danish cooperative (an economical organization and consumer or producer-controlled corporation, in which each individual member owns a part of the corporation) is an old organizational form in Denmark.  The land in Denmark was distributed fairly between farmers already 700 years ago. About 90% of all farming soil in Denmark was cooperative from 1300 to the middel of the 1700s and  the inhabitants of a Danish village would work together, in Landsbyfællesskaber (village communes). Cooperative farming and owning was also used in the farming industry and in consumer organizations in Denmark from the late 1700s to the 1960s. The members of the corporations sought to share the economic risk of producing or buying goods, and divided the financial surplus amongst them (Wikipedia). This tradition has its modern parallels in co-op shops, co-housing and communities.

While in Copenhagen I visited a collective of 8 adults and one child in an apartment building in Norrebro in northern Copenhagen. They live on the two top floors and in the attic they have build a huge living room and a wonderful loft with roof windows looking out over Norrebro. At their dinner table there are almost always at least 10 people because usually one or two of the members in the cooperative have a guest, a family member or they lend a sofa to a couch -surfer or to a friend who needs a place to crash for a couple of days. So when the collective cooks a meal they cook for at least 10 people.

A neighbor two flights down is a middle-aged handicapped woman who lives alone. Awhile back the collective invited her to join their collective dinner-cooking rotation (matlag). She thought that was a wonderful idea and now she gets dinner from the collective, cooking for them every 9th day or so. Recently a couple who live on the floor above her had their first child. Since the mother and father are sleep-deprived and often too tired to think about cooking dinner, they had started eating more and more take-away. When members of the collective heard about this, they invited the family to join the cooking collective.

So why don’t we see more such everyday life solutions in city apartment buildings where many people are reported to feel lonelier than  ever before?

To cooperate is fun and smart too!  Denmark’s collaborative culture has made it a breeding ground for for the happiest people on earth! Denmark has often ranked high in life happiness rankings and took the top spot on the United Nation’s first ever World Happiness Report (followed by Finland, Norway and the Netherlands). The 158-page report, published by Columbia University’s Earth Institute, was commissioned for the United Nations Conference on Happiness. While basic living standards are essential for happiness, political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption are together more important than income.

I have to stop writing about cooperation now because my husband – who has helped me remember my father-in-law Howard’s joke – wants me to cooperate with him on our dinner project!

*(As to the Swedes, the real butt of my father-in-law’s joke, they are certainly less formal now than they may have been when he told this joke in the 1960′s, are starting cooperatives which probably have made them happier.)
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  1. […] Cooperation and happiness go hand in hand […]

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