How would you like to live in a country where you have to schedule one month ahead to have dinner or coffee with a friend, where you couldn’t build your dream house without first being approved by the government’s architect, employees are charged up to 52-percent income tax, almost all stores closes at 6 p.m. and on Sundays and everything is expensive save for the bread and milk? Not the best place to live in right and not inviting at all! Ironically, The Netherlands, where I am currently residing, is the third happiest place to live in the world.
According to the latest survey conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development based in Paris, Northern European countries like Belgium (10th), Norway (9th), Switzerland (7th), Ireland (5th), Sweden (4th), Finland (2nd), Denmark (1st), along with countries like New Zealand (8th) and Canada (6th), are top places where residents find fulfillment in their every day life. The survey quantified the overall satisfaction of citizens 15 years old and above from 140 countries in terms of six different forms of positive or negative feelings within a day. Included are questions that relate to earning respect, feeling of accomplishment and productivity and enjoyment of every day activities on a scale of 1-100. The median was 62.4. The organization concluded that economic health, as these countries score higher Gross Domestic Product and less unemployment rate than the rest, plays a key role in the happiness of the people but that’s not all to it.
The Dutch hardly look like they are the most satisfied people nor are they happy folks. In fact, they are often typecast as a close, cold, and stingy race. They are perennially complaining about the weather, the government and its rules and taxes and how prices are so expensive. But generally, they, as well as other Europeans, live in a balanced work-life attitude. Work is treated not just as a moneymaking venture but with utmost respect and genuine concern for the growth of the company hence the high productivity of Dutch/European workers. It’s unlikely that you would find them answering messages or calls which are not work-related. In return, companies do their best to make sure workers are happy, giving as many benefits as they can afford.
The 40-hour work week is strictly dedicated to performing their jobs. The rest of the time is devoted to rest, having an early dinner, watching the 6 p.m. news, and retiring to reading or drinking a glass of wine afterwards. Weekends are devoted to gardening or attending family or friend’s affairs. Travel is part of the yearly itinerary, at least twice a year, in summer break and winter for the average citizens—more often for the moneyed. They don’t worry about getting sick because health insurance covers everything or being jobless, sick or invalid because the government gives enough subsidies. The environment and security are top priorities of the government, employing enough personnel to keep The Netherlands a safe and healthy country to live.
But is satisfaction measured by such a boring routine or well-structured system? Don’t we always need to have friends around, reachable anytime of the day? What about the liberty to build a pink or orange house, have access to the malls, cinemas, and coffee shops 24 hours a day or at least till bedtime?
Probably not but those were some of the things I had to learn to live without in order to survive the Dutch way of life. Coming from a very democratic country, it was quite depressing at first to have so many rules to live with and not having as many fun activities as I was used to. Coping with the system (rules included) taught me how to value more essential things in life rather than settling for most of the time senseless things that only offer temporary happiness.
In The Netherlands, schedules are strictly observed because people want to have their own privacy to do the things that they love to do alone or with loved ones, like spending a quiet night drinking wine and talking about how the day went, a sunny (rare thing) afternoon sipping tea or coffee in the garden, enough time to enrich the mind with books or the daily walk or jog in the park to keep body and mind fit. These are the things that Filipinos generally enjoy in the company of friends but as I’ve found out, more enjoyable doing alone or with the closest person in your life (husbands, wives or children) as it gives more opportunity for family bonding. The Dutch value their immediate family, giving as much time as they can because these are the people that will truly stick with them through thick and thin.
It’s hard to make friends with the Dutch as it is with the French, if you don’t talk their language, and with the English, if you don’t get their droll wit, because they don’t forge superficial friendships. It takes long years and lots of trust to have one true Dutch friend, but he or she is also the one who will protect you at your lowest point.
In terms of money, the Dutch are very frugal to the point of being stingy. And it’s not only practiced by the people but by the monarchy themselves. Having an apartment with the basic amenities, money to travel and buy the basic needs, and a car to ferry oneself or family to office or school is usually enough to be considered a comfortable living. They don’t aspire for luxury cars, branded clothes, shoes or bags, the latest gadgets or expensive pieces of jewelry (in fact, they seldom wear one) as a means of happiness. But they put very high regard on education, as many of them pursue a double master or doctoral degree while working. I’ve learned to prioritize what I actually need over what I desire and persevere to learn as much as I can about the culture and the language.
Rules are a big part of the society. Although they are liberal in most matters like with sex, soft drugs, and religion, rules make sure that everything is kept in moderation. I have been questioned many times about my age when buying cigarettes because 16 years old and below are strictly not allowed nicotine or alcohol. You can’t buy them anywhere unlike in the Philippines and smoking in restaurants is prohibited to protect the lungs of non-smokers. The rules on garbage, cars, houses, and buildings makes the Dutch landscape organized and avoid unnecessary chaos including congestion and pollution.
While they complain about the taxes, they diligently and honestly pay it nonetheless because as a country operating in a socialist system, they know that taxes benefit the country and themselves in the long run. They have strong opinions about other religions (like Islam and Purists) and immigrants flocking to the country but keep it among themselves so as not to offend anyone. Most of the Dutch have either one or two international organizations they regularly help like World Wide Fund, Amnesty International or Children’s of War as their way of giving back to their otherwise comfortable life.
In conclusion, living in a wealthy country really does its part in keeping someone satisfied but generally, respecting other people, living a productive life and following the rules, is the key to finding satisfaction, in a well to do society or otherwise.