A Piece of Danish Happiness by Sharmi Albrechtsen

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A Piece of Danish Happiness by Sharmi Albrechtsen

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Enjoyable memoir of an American in Denmark who learns to shed materialism in her quest to be as happy as the average Dane. And the average Dane is the happiest person in the world. So a tall, but worthwhile order! Sharmi Albrechtsen popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 206 Date: August 2013
Publisher: Sharper
External links: Author's website

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Sharmi Albrechtsen was a true Hindu-American princess. Obsessed with shoes and handbags and designer labels, she saw status and wealth as the only route to happiness. But she wasn't happy enough, no matter how much designer gear she owned. And it wasn't until 1997, when she married her second husband, a Dane, and relocated to Denmark, that she began to wonder if it was something lacking in herself, rather than her possessions, that was at the root of her problems.

Danes regularly top happiness index lists. They are satisfied with their lives. But why? From Albrechtsen's American, materialist, demonstrative perspective, it was all very strange. Danes weren't outwardly friendly - an acquaintance of Albrechtsen's once turned down a dinner invitation by saying I am sorry but we have enough friends! Waiters in restaurants border on the rude when compared to service levels stateside. The weather is bad. Prices are high. So Albrechtsen set out to find the source of Danish happiness.

Many commentators ascribe it to the high levels of Danish welfare. Research indicates that once people's basic needs of food, shelter and warmth are met, happiness levels off. But Albrechtsen doesn't think welfare alone explains it. As the book goes on, she discusses the Danish concepts of hygge or contentment and belonging and nærvær or mindfulness and appreciation. She also talks about jantelov or the Law of Jante, a Scandinavian concept which suggests there is a pattern of group behaviour that emphasises community over individuals - something that is very difficult for an American!

It's a fascinating book and Albrechtsen's honesty - she is not afraid of anecdotes that paint her in a bad light - is extremely refreshing. As a British reader, I felt squarely in the middle of these two outlooks on life. We Brits have an awkward relationship with our welfare state - we love our health service but we're obsessed with dole scroungers. We celebrate individual achievements far more than the Danes seem to do but we are self-deprecating in a way that Americans are not. By the end, I really felt that I had learned something - about Americans, about Danes, and also about myself.

I will say that the book isn't perfect. Albrechtsen has largely kept the format of the blog on which the book is based and so the narrative structure falters from time to time, particularly in the second half once we are past the autographical reminscences. I could have done with a more organised progression of thought and thus a better flow here. The formatting is also web-like and this could do with tidying up. Readers of books don't want to see smiley icons and they keep concentration better when there aren't double returns separating paragraphs.

Technical nitpicks aside, A Piece of Danish Happiness is an enlightening read. The theme, I think, began as one of culture shock and, after some dissection of this special happiness the Danes enjoy, ended as one of understanding and celebrating the differences in cultures. Albrechtsen herself retains her American identity but has absorbed much of the Danish hygge and jantelov that she learned about. It's all about Danes, this book, but it's also the story of an American taking part in that quintessential American journey - the pursuit of happiness.

Every reader will take something of value from this enjoyable book.

If you're interested in what makes a happy person, you might also enjoy The Secrets of Happiness by Richard Schoch or Feel Happy Now by Michael Neill.

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Buy A Piece of Danish Happiness by Sharmi Albrechtsen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Piece of Danish Happiness by Sharmi Albrechtsen at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Piece of Danish Happiness by Sharmi Albrechtsen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Piece of Danish Happiness by Sharmi Albrechtsen at Amazon.com.

You can read more about Sharmi Albrechtsen here.

Bookinterviews.jpg Sharmi Albrechtsen was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.


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