Norwegians count their blessings in world's happiest nation

Elisabeth Eines poses for a picture in Oslo, Norway on March 20. PHOTO: REUTERS
Traditional troll figures are pictured outside a shop in Oslo on March 20. PHOTO: REUTERS
Karen Nerbo (left) and Kristina Davidsen are all smiles on an Oslo street. PHOTO: REUTERS

OSLO/COPENHAGEN (REUTERS) - Norwegian law student Karen Nerbo summed up the feelings of many on Monday as her country was named the world's happiest country.

"We have a lot of things to be happy about, our society is very open, we have everything that we need, there is not much to complain about," said Nerbo, 22, walking down Oslo's prime shopping avenue.

Norway pipped last year's league leader Denmark to take the crown in the United Nations' World Happiness Report 2017.

Piano teacher Elizabeth Eines hailed Norway's cradle-to-grave welfare system as the reason. "We don't have to worry about stuff, if something bad will happen, we feel secure that we will be taken care of," said Eines, 32.

The country of 5.2 million inhabitants largely avoided the 2008 financial crisis that hit the rest of the world thanks to high oil prices that boosted its leading industry, oil production.

And despite a halving of crude prices since mid-2014, Oslo has carefully managed its oil wealth, pooling its revenues into a sovereign wealth fund that is the world's largest.

The government takes a small percentage of the fund's value for its state budget every year, which has helped shelter it from the deep budget cuts other countries have had to make.

Of course, not everyone is happy. A demonstration for workers' rights took place on Monday. And as Rudy Stanford-Smyth, a 37-year-old South African mechanical engineer, says, Norway can also be hard to move to.

"It can also be rough as a foreigner, as an immigrant maybe, but once you have a job and once you're in the system I think it's a good place," said the father-of-two. "I have children so it's a good place for my children to be ... The salaries are pretty good here no matter what job you do," he said.

For every winner, there is a runner up and over in Denmark, they were sanguine about the slip in the rankings. "Denmark overtaken: Oil lifts Norway to the top of happiness ranking," Danish public broadcaster DR said.

Maria Madsen Busk, a Danish student, said: "I think Norway is happier than Denmark because they have more money ... I don't think it's sad because we all know how happy we are," she said.

And there is always room for a bit of banter in the two happiest nations and Scandinavian near neighbours.

Stig Bakke, a 52-year-old civil servant married to a Danish woman, was looking forward to teasing his relatives. "That's of course something I will use when I go down to visit them this Easter, saying them that they're number two," he said.


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