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Notes from a Small Country

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives

“Look at those twinkly lights daddy!”

That was 2 weeks ago when I was cycling home with the rest of the Purvis gang, whizzing past cosy Danish homes in our neighbourhood.

It gets dark from 3:30 pm at this time of year. That might not sound so bad, yet consider it doesn’t really get light until after 8 am.

So we don’t see as much natural light nowadays, and when we do it’s a dim grey light from a low sun. A sun trying its best to push its rays through thick winter cloud.

We cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love

Hygge is an important part of Danish life.

Hygge (pronounced hue-guh or hoo-gah depending on whom you ask or what website you visit) is a Danish word. A word used to acknowledge a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or away, ordinary or extraordinary.

It’s cosy and most of all charming.

For much of the western world, Hygge has become a familiar term, with popular books and articles being written on the subject (Danish & Scandi living has a huge following in the UK & US recently).

‘Let’s put our twinkly lights up now’ said my son as we pulled into our driveway.

So in we all went and out came our twinkly fairy lights. We put them in lantern jars, on bushes in the garden and hanging on the bunk bed in our children’s bedroom.

It’s all very cosy.

Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity

When I think of people sitting at home with blankets over their knees I picture elderly people watching TV or reading the paper.

That’s never going to be me I used to think.

Yet here I am in our home, with a grey IKEA fleece blanket across my legs. My wife and kiddos are the same and yet it’s not cold in our house…

Our fairy lights are on and candles lit and we’re playing Old Maid (the card game) around the dining table.

It turns out cosiness isn’t just for the elderly.

Yet real Hygge is more than twinkly lights, candles and those grey fleece blankets from IKEA.

It’s about togetherness, connectedness and quality time with yourself or others.

I recently learned that a startup created a box for people to put their phones in when together. It’s a box that blocks signals so phone disturbance isn’t possible.

It’s called Breadblox and looks pretty stylish. Yet being stylish is all it really is.

It costs a lot more than everyone simply putting their phone onto aeroplane mode.

Hygge was never meant to be translated, it was meant to be felt

Hygge doesn’t require a purchase of anything. You don’t even need twinkly lights or candles. It’s a state of mind, it’s a philosophy for better living, better living we can all benefit from.

I’m learning Hygge means being in the moment. It means connecting and staying connected to yourself, your surroundings or those you enjoy spending time with.

So no phones, no devices, just people, nature or conversation, and most of all cosiness.

You don’t need an expensive box to block your phone. You just need discipline, curiosity and the mindfulness to enjoy simple moments every day.

Hygge is like a good hug, but without the physical contact

In our home, our kids love to light the candles, turn on the fairy lights and get to work on their Lego. If that isn’t a demonstration of Hygge I don’t know what is.

Do you have small moments that make a big difference in how you live, feel and interact?

If you don’t, chances are you’d benefit from embracing Hygge into your life.

It’s making all the difference in mine.

Now, where did I put that fleece blanket?

“You cannot buy the right atmosphere or a sense of togetherness. You cannot hygge if you are in a hurry or stressed out, and the art of creating intimacy cannot be bought by anything but time, interest and engagement in the people around you.” ― Meik Wiking, The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well

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I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!

I’d love it if you’d subscribe to this article, that way you’ll get a notification each week when the latest one appears.

See you next time for Episode 13.

Who am I? I lead software engineering teams at Unity Technologies, the realtime development platform of choice for video games, movies and more.

I write on LinkedIn linkedin.com/in/marcuspurvis

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Notes from a Small Country

Trusting you is my decision. Proving me right is your choice

“Deep Throat said “trust no one.” And that’s hard, Scully. Suspecting everyone, everything, it wears you down. You even begin to doubt what you know is the truth. Before, I could only trust myself. Now, I can only trust you…” – Fox Mulder from The X Files TV show

Learning to trust is one of life’s most difficult tasks

It’s been a year in Denmark and I’m beginning to be concerned I won’t see danger coming anymore as I’ve actually cracked one of life’s most difficult tasks – learning to trust.

In the UK I was on alert all the time. I didn’t actually know it until I moved to the happiest country in the world. I was on unconscious alert 24/7 until now, it was exhausting.

From never letting my 5-year-old son out of sight in a public place to suspecting someone at work of trying to harm my progress when they offered help, trust for me did not exist unless it had been earned.

As long as you can persuade me to trust you, you have no reason to trust me

Yet the idea of earning trust is a broken one. You either trust or you don’t. Trust doesn’t exist from technique, tools or hacks, it exists in your character.

Much of my childhood was without a father or male figure, so I looked to Batman and Clint Eastwood (Man with no name and Dirty Harry) for mentoring and guidance. Not only were they cool, but they could also get out of any tricky situation.

These characters (like Mulder from the X Files) succeeded for the most part by trusting no one, and who could blame them with bad guys around every corner?

It wasn’t just comic and movie characters that formed my trust compass. The society I grew up in (1980’s UK) didn’t instil trust, it took it away. From politics, journalism, books, movies and TV, I was constantly exposed to a society where people were not to be trusted.

So what’s happened to me in the last 12 months? I’ve been exposed to a different society, one that’s happy to pay high taxes to a government demonstrating they use money wisely (helping everyone). I’m a member of a society that understands they’ll always be a minority of people abusing the benefits, yet that isn’t a reason to cut them for those in need.

It’s a society where at work people’s trust isn’t earned, it’s there from day one. You simply need to make sure you don’t break it.

The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them

“Take the car, you and your family are welcome to use it anytime we’re not.”

Said a person I had met only an hour before.

This wasn’t a conversation in the UK, it was at a dinner in Denmark, dinner with a family we’d met through my son’s kindergarten.

In Denmark trust really is in place from the beginning, it’s not earned as time goes by.

Danes believe that others have good intent. So even if I damaged the car, the trust that I wouldn’t damage it intentionally exists. Also, the trust I’d repair any damage is in play too.

Trust is the bedrock of Danish society. From parents leaving their babies in prams outside of shops and cafes (yes I really do see this) to business deals taking place based on a conversation or simple email transaction, it’s incredible that trust in others is so high.

I’ve actually witnessed a woman walking past a pram outside a cafe where a baby was crying, and then stop to pick up the baby and cuddle it.

Can you imagine this in the UK or USA? Forgetting the fact no parent in either country would leave their baby outside a cafe, if they did, there would be a parent running out of the cafe screaming about a kidnapping.

Not in Denmark, the mother and father came out and thanked the passer-by for helping.

One must be fond of people and trust them if one is not to make a mess of life

Where I live there’s an abundance of general societal trust. That is the ability to trust a person from the moment you meet them. What I’m learning is the assumption people are honest and reliable is the only worthwhile assumption, unless of course, they demonstrate otherwise.

When we look at studies, Denmark tops a list of 86 countries of trust in society. It’s reported up to a quarter of Denmark’s wealth can be attributed to trust (what economists can’t attribute to production, infrastructure, schooling etc.) In fact, it’s widely believed that trust saves a lot of bureaucratic problems, which on the face of it makes perfect sense.

Trust is built when no one is looking

So how can you benefit from lessons in trust if you don’t live in Denmark? I’m wondering this too as I’ll be returning to the UK in the future.

I’ve split trust into 3 activities. It’s these activities I’m practising each day. My hope is they’ll build my character and help me in any society and culture I’m part of.

I’m doing this because I know I won’t be able to blindly trust colleagues embedded into a cutthroat business culture or a person acting suspiciously outside my home. Yet I do know I can trust in myself.

I can trust that I’m trustworthy by default and perhaps that will make those around me trustworthy too.

Here’s what I’m doing, why not try it too and let me know how you get on?

  1. I’m making the time to care – I actually care about other people and instead of just thinking it, I’m demonstrating it through my actions
  2. I’ve put integrity on a pedestal – Being honest with strong moral principles is key in having a trusting relationship, it’s one of my top priorities
  3. I’m checking my intent – I’m asking myself what my intent is all the time. If I’m not acting out of good intent I stop and reset.

Good luck! I’m optimistic we can follow in the footsteps of Denmark and build trusting societies all over the world, the world needs this right now.

“Trust is like the air we breathe – when it’s present, nobody really notices; when it’s absent, everybody notices.” – Warren Buffett

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I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!

I’d love it if you’d subscribe to this article by signing up on this page, using your email. That way you’ll get a notification each week when the latest one appears.

See you next week for Episode 11.

You can follow me on Linkedin for daily notes on life and my 5 Share Friday – 5 interesting reads, life hacks or lessons, tried & tested by me.

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: Marcus Purvis Newsletters

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Notes from a Small Country

I don’t ride a bike to add days to my life. I ride a bike to add life to my days.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.”
Sherlock Holmes author, Arthur Conan Doyle, Scientific American, 1896

One of the biggest changes while living in Denmark compared to the UK is the ability to not have a car and still function day to day.

Only 4 out of 10 Danes own a car. Whereas in the UK only 4 out of 10 people own a bicycle.

Cyclists see considerably more of this beautiful world than anyone else

Not having a car hasn’t been that difficult. I’ve found I rarely needed the 4 wheeled freedom I use to enjoy to go anywhere at speed and with anything I wanted (as long as it fitted in the boot or roof box).

It’s been over a year now (16 months) and I’ll admit there are times where I want to get behind the wheel still. It would make popping to Ikea and bringing back furniture nice and easy (the delivery costs are criminal), or being able to take all the garden waste to the local compost, or even just not getting wet on the way to anywhere when it’s raining.

(Incredibly, only 21% of Danish cyclists choose not to cycle in bad weather).

Before living in Denmark I’d cycled in the UK quite a bit, though really only for leisure (mountain biking) or getting to the train station for my commute.

Back then I had cars queuing up behind me as cycle lanes were rare or non-existent. The near misses as a result of frustration from drivers trying to get past me was a frequent occurrence.

Not anymore!

The Bike is a Danes best friend

Denmark has cycle lanes almost everywhere, and not just a line painted on the road, it’s a separate sidewalk just for bicycles. So no cars backing up and trying to pass you on a bend (phew).

The other thing that’s striking is the lack of potholes or dips, seriously there are virtually no potholes in the bicycle lanes (or roads). So no buckled wheels here.

Got kids? No problem! Cargo bikes are the answer.

A cargo bike (or family bike) is a kind of oversized tricycle with a large box on the front. The Danish government have estimated a quarter of all Copenhagen families with two or more children own a cargo bike for transporting kids, groceries, and other necessities.

We’ve got one and it’s crazy awesome, here’s a picture

It’s also worth noting that like other Danish products, cargo bikes can be just as stylish with some even winning design awards and many being exported all over the world.

What about punctures? I upgraded my tyres to puncture-resistant ones. They have an extra 3mm of rubber between the tread and the inner tube. I haven’t had a puncture since using them (over 6 months ago).

To bike, or not to bike: that is not a question

Apart from the cost of having a car in Denmark (cars are taxed at over 100%) along with the environmental impact, the health benefits are clear.

There are an estimated 1.1 million fewer sick days due to the number of people cycling here in the land of happiness.

More than 60% of people living in and around Copenhagen go to work or school by bicycle ( 49% of all Danish children 11-15 bike to school).

That’s a lot of healthy people.

What’s interesting is that 26% of all trips below 5km are by bicycle. The environmental benefits to this alone are amazing.

When we look at the UK, 71% of the population never ride a bike, that’s a pretty big difference.

Even just going to the corner shop, or taking the children to school, the car is often the preferred method for many.

Let’s change that!

When in doubt. Pedal it out

Own a bicycle? Next time you’re tempted to jump in the car for a short journey, choose your bike. You don’t even need a bike lane as the safety in numbers rule shows us the more people cycle the safer it becomes.

Happy cycling!

P.S. Don’t forget to wear a helmet (Interestingly only 35% of cyclists wear a helmet in Denmark)

Statistics from the cycling embassy of Denmark

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I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!

I’d love it if you’d subscribe to this article by signing up on this page, using your email. That way you’ll get a notification each week when the latest one appears.

See you next week for Episode 10.

You can follow me on Linkedin for daily notes on life and my 5 Share Friday – 5 interesting reads, life hacks or lessons, tried & tested by me.

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: Marcus Purvis Newsletters

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Notes from a Small Country

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination

“They f*ck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”

From ‘This Be The Verse’

A well-known poem from British poet Philip Larkin. Often cited in parenting books and even been used by judges in high profile divorce cases.

Since becoming a parent I’ve pondered on this poem a lot. I’ve read a ton of research, lots of books and listened to countless interviews and podcasts.

It seems we really do f*ck up our children.

But maybe less so in Denmark.

Childhoods never last. But everyone deserves one.

When our first son was 3 years old we were still in the UK, and the education system expected him to talk better than he could.

They tested him at preschool, fed back and told us to take him to speech therapy.

My wife and I were unsure, for a few days, at what to do.

Our intuition told us he was fine. We understood him, he understood us and he was only 3 years old.

We kept reminding ourselves he had only been on this planet for 3 years.

It can take that long to get seen by a specialist in our national health service.

So we ignored the advice.

“If a child is poor in math but good at tennis, most people would hire a math tutor. I would rather hire a tennis coach.” ~ Deepak Chopra

3 years on he’s not only speaking great English, but he’s also getting by speaking Danish too.

We were right. We gave him space and we took him away from the chaotic test heavy structure of the UK school system.

There is no land like the land of your childhood

Giving children unstructured play is amazing for them.

If you’re over 40, you might remember what that was like?

To have space and time to be bored as a child.

Space that isn’t structured by an adult.

Our son has spent just over a year in Denmark and he’s blossoming like the child we always knew he would be.

In the UK, at 4 years old they put him in a large classroom, gave him homework and made him wear a school uniform.

“Kindergarten, which used to be focused on play, is now an academic training ground for the first grade. Young children are assigned homework even though numerous studies have found it harmful. STEM, standardized testing and active-shooter drills have largely replaced recess, leisurely lunches, art and music.” – New York Times, Kim Brooks

No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship

The Danish Kindergarten where my son is has kept its focus on play.

They coach, mentor and teach. There’s no punishment system, no reward system and no organised timetable.

Their No.1 role is to help children develop and flourish through play and socialising, not how to advance up a league table.

So minimised monitoring and almost zero testing.

It’s easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults

When our son first started at the kindergarten he showed signs of stress. We thought it was all the change in our lives and the new language.

We talked to him over several days and it turned out another child was picking on him.

We talked to the kindergarten who jumped on it right away.

It was a troubled child, someone who’s now a friend of our sons. They coached my son to be confident and express how he felt, and they treated the bully with kindness, not punishment.

Over a number of weeks, my son grew in confidence and the bully grew in empathy. It was win-win, not win-lose.

Teaching kids to count is fine, but teaching them what counts is best

Looking at our Danish school choices for next year, we’ve discovered they take into account how a child interacts with others, the relationships they build and how they contribute in the classroom.

It’s not all about test results. It’s about a holistic view of them as a person.

How great is that? Pretty great, it means less f*cked up adults.

“Remember: everyone in the classroom has a story that leads to misbehavior or defiance. 9 times out of 10, the story behind the misbehavior won’t make you angry. It will break your heart.” ~ Annette Breaux

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I hope you enjoyed this episode of Notes from a Small Country? Please give me feedback directly or in the comments. Which part was your favourite? What do you want to see more or less of? Other suggestions? Let me know!

Now with over 4500 subscribers on LinkedIn, this series is growing, thank you to everyone who’s enjoying and sharing!

Don’t miss a thing and subscribe using your email below, that way you’ll get a notification each week when I publish my latest adventure.

See you next week for Episode 8.

Marcus Purvis leads software engineering teams at Unity Technologies, the realtime development platform of choice for video games, movies and more. He’s also learning to write inspiring content on LinkedInMedium and here at marcuspurvis.com

Originally published as part of LinkedIn newsletters here: Marcus Purvis Newsletters