November 5, 2015: A Gray November Morning in Copenhagen

Dear Friends,

On a gray, mild morning in Copenhagen, I am happy.

Gail and I traveled here so that she could attend a summit in her role as a board member of the international organization NetHope. I came along so that we could also squeeze in a few vacation days together.

I brought with me on our trip a nasty bug, which soon turned into a full-blown respiratory infection of some kind. Fever, dizziness, congestion – the works. We managed to have a lovely day yesterday of walking downtown and taking in the sights. But that burst of good energy is completely gone now, and I’m feeling grateful just to be out of bed, dressed and seated on the couch inside our little apartment.

And, yet, looking out the windows onto a dreary Copenhagen cityscape of buildings and cranes (construction is going on everywhere in this city), I feel happy. The United Nations World Happiness Report ranks Copenhagen as the happiest city on earth. And my own attitude this morning has got me thinking again of this desired and fleeting emotion and how and why it appears in my life.

I have heard it said that happiness is an inside job. In other words, no matter what may be going in one’s external world, happiness is an internal state of being and, therefore, is up to the individual. A happy or hopeful person is able to inject optimism and peace into the darkest corners of life. The Dali Lama, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Victor Frankel, and Malala Yousafzai come to mind.

And, yet I also think that external circumstances contribute to happiness, too. Perhaps Denmark’s Nordic social democracy, a seemingly balanced form of government that blends capitalism with economic and social security for all citizens, is that external factor that has enabled the Copenhagen people to live a mostly happy and hopeful existence . . . even if the city’s fall skies are gray and its daylight brief.

As Gail ran an errand and I stayed behind bundled up on the sofa with a box of Kleenex, a woman from housekeeping gently knocked on the door. She asked if she could do a quick cleaning of the room. After learning I was sick, she brought in an extra blanket and some packets of tea. “These might help you feel better,” she said in perfect Danish-accented English.

As she cheerfully and efficiently did her work, I couldn’t help but think how little it takes to offer happiness and hope to someone else and how life changing it is when I’m able to receive it.

In Danish author Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale The Butterfly, the butterfly said, “Just living is not enough. One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.” I think these were offered to me today by a kind Danish woman and I’m grateful that I recognized them for the gifts of the heart that they are.

On a gray, mild morning in Copenhagen, I am happy.