Clean air Copenhagen: Cities with less air pollution shows a lead when it comes to happiness

Denmark and its capital Copenhagen are one of the most desirable places to live, both according to happiness and sustainability. But how much do those qualities influence each other?

By Janet Iroezi and Nanna C. Madsen

The streets of Copenhagen are dominated by bikes, a result of the green policy of the city. Since the 7th of July the city also hosts the world’s first happiness museum. A perfect place, regarding the fact that Denmark has always been ranked as one of the top three happiest countries in the world by the United nations. In the most recent world happiness report Denmark is only surpassed by Finland.

For the last seven years the Copenhagen based happiness research institute has tried to quantify the subjective feeling of happiness and life satisfaction. The goal of the museum: Making their research accessible and understandable for the public.

A bigger car will not make you happier
One of their main findings is the fact, that happiness is seldomly connected to material achievements such as buying a bigger house or car, but rather to long lasting life changes that are more sustainable

One of these sustainable factors is the cleanliness of the air in a city. The research institute found out that there is a direct connection between life satisfaction and air pollution in cities, as stated in their most recent report “wellbeing adjusted life years” from 2020.

It is rather difficult to measure the influence of a factor to the individual wellbeing, that for most people is invisible. Many residences have no way of knowing how their life would change if they lived in a less polluted area. One way of dismantling the influence air pollution has on the happiness of a person, is to compare the average happiness of cities in relation to their air quality. Cities like Copenhagen or Cardiff, both with relatively clean air, are happier than the citizens of more polluted cities like Warsaw or Zagreb.

Sustainability has an indirect effect on happiness
Are Denmark’s high scores on life satisfaction a result of a green policy?

“I don’t think that sustainability itself has a big, direct effect on the happiness of a person “, says Alexander Gamerdinger, Analyst at the Happiness Research institute.

The reason for Denmark’s high life satisfaction for him is the welfare state and the high standard of living, enabling a good mental and physical health, job security and a freedom of choices. Still, he believes, that there is an overlap between happiness and sustainability:

“We for example see that being surrounded by nature can have a huge impact on your psychological wellbeing and since psychological wellbeing is so important for the overall wellbeing, in that way being sustainable can have a positive indirect effect.”

Bad air quality makes people less happy. To compensate for the loss of life satisfaction, a person living in Hamburg would to compare need 1897 € more annually.

More electric cars on the danish roads by 2030
A new danish report made by elbilskommissionen, the electric car commission, just came out with suggestions for a greener danish future traffic. Solutions that by 2030 according to the politicians, should get more than 750.000 electric cars on the danish roads, lower the CO2 emissions and reduce air pollution even further. 

The solution will put the expenses on gas and diesel car drivers, making it more attractive to buy an electric car, and less to own a gas or diesel driven.

The greener traffic is already encouraged in the other Scandinavian countries, Norway and Sweden, who are both in top 10 when it comes to happiest countries. A top ten full of low air pollution countries, leading in the sustainable direction.

Read more about the top 20 happiest countries