Sitzbook Review: “A Piece of Danish Happiness” by Sharmi Albrechtsen

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Here’s another entry in my mini-reviews section from last year’s Sitzbook project. This one is going to be a bit longer, though, since I’ve got more to say about it. Today’s book is A Piece of Danish Happiness by Sharmi Albrechtsen.

As a critic, one of my greatest weaknesses is surely that I’m not terribly critical. I often like most of what I read, watch, and listen to, or if I don’t, I quickly move on and don’t dwell on it. I also feel bad criticizing other people’s work, especially writers, since a big part of my work these days is writing.

Nevertheless, I didn’t like this book.

I was intrigued by the title and premise, especially since I’ve lately been pondering happiness and what it means to call a place the “World’s Happiest Country.” That’s a title that’s been bestowed on Costa Rica a lot lately, but it’s also been given to Denmark by different outlets. So it’s also been a good conversation topic in my classes.

I thought it would be nice to hear another person’s take on what it means to live in the other supposedly happiest country in the world. Plus, at about a dollar for a Kindle version of the book, the price was certainly right.

I don’t want to run it down too much here, but the book was just lacking in many basic areas, especially in proofreading. It reads like a blog that was bound into a book, but without going through an editing process first.

Most of my notes are incredulous, like “What the f*** is she talking about??” For example, she goes off on a fairly long tangent about the TV show “Sex and the City” and compares herself to the protagonist; at one point she says:

“Like for many young women, Carrie was someone for me to aspire to. She was the ultimate chic, fashionable woman living a fantastic and glamorous life.
The hypocrisy of a similarly shoe-obsessed woman, Imelda Marcos with her 2,700 pairs of shoes, did not warrant the same kind of appreciation or envy. Imelda was ridiculed and harassed for her excessiveness. The irony was that, unlike Carrie, Imelda was born wealthy and privileged and could actually afford these luxuries.
The Danes on the other hand, had a culture of practical, comfortable shoes. ECCO, Dansko and Børn are international companies that produce and ‘market’ the sensible Danish shoe. Ugly, clunky and definitely rubber heeled, these reasonably priced clog type shoes were ubiquitous.”

OK, I understand she’s talking about Danish footwear, but trust me, it takes quite a while to get to happiness.

My other notes include things like “How about getting a proof reader?” and “Still talking about g**** shopping.”

Eventually, she does start talking more about happiness in a Danish context, saying:

“Are the Danes really the happiest people in the world? I am asked time and time again. And I must admit, ergghh, ahh, well the thing is, it really depends on what your definition of the word happiness is. The literal Danish translation of the word used in the happiness surveys is ’tilfreds’ which is loosely translated as content.”

That’s the kind of thing that I had expected from the book, since I often wonder about that in a Costa Rican context. In the same way people interviewing Danes about happiness may conflate contentment with happiness, I often wonder if the people who survey Costa Ricans confuse happiness with that same sense of contentment, or even complacency. Anyhow, it was a thought that I was mainly left to ponder on my own.

Other issues with the book include poor punctuation:

“[…]when I asked her what religious or even historical significance it had–she, nor any other Dane that I asked. could answer.”

…and some sentences that were possibly creative, but still bizarre, like when she was talking about cod roe (yes, fish eggs):

“They come out gray, hard and brittle, looking like the giant scrotum of a dead, waterlogged junkie.
Definitely something that could have been removed by the surgeons at Seattle Grace and landing in the medical waste bin.”

Another awful sentence:

“My money was worthless (the dollar is worth nothing outside of USA), my attitude was too American and ? (not a good thing). For my part, I thought Denmark should change – adopt a better work ethic (work longer and therefore harder?), keep shops open ALWAYS! And while I was at it, why weren’t people impressed with what I do?”

In short, a lot of the book reads like notes for a book.

The only thing that I found as a “good” quote to share was actually a quote that she used from Kierkegaard:

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it…”

Albrechtsen’s personal life is a major thread in the book, and although I should have probably understood that going into it, I didn’t realize that it would take such center stage. She mentions issues she had had in her marriages, and that a solution she had found was an “AAA” regime. That means “apology, affection, and action,” and apparently it’s a formula to resolve conflicts in relationships. That actually seems like pretty solid advice, although it has nothing to do with Danish happiness.

Anyhow, I don’t imagine any of you have read this book or will, but I just thought I’d share those thoughts. Thanks for reading, and check back tomorrow for more!

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