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In Denmark, Empathy Is A School Subject That Kids Learn From A Very Young Age

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Empathy. It’s the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes, to feel what they feel, to be there for them, to understand them. In other words, to see through the eyes of another, listen through the ears of another, and feel through the heart of another.

True empathy requires putting your emotions aside, stepping out of the familiar, and seeing the world through an entirely different perspective. Through the eyes of a sufferer, through the experiences of a martyr. Put simply, it is about finding parts of another human being in yourself…

And as such… empathy cannot be felt by anyone. Some people are simply not capable of understanding how others feel. At the same time to some, it comes pretty naturally.

People of Denmark know exactly how that feels. Why, you ask?

Well, because in Denmark, empathy is not just a nice, admirable trait to possess. It is a mandatory school subject that every child learns as they grow. How awesome and incredibly inspiring that is, huh?

No wonder the UN’s World Happiness Report listed them as one of the happiest countries in the world. This report first came out in 2012, and ever since Denmark holds the spot as one of the 10 happiest countries out of 155 countries. And it seems to me, that teaching and introducing empathy as an important aspect of life is definitely one of the reasons why these people are the happiest.

Teaching empathy has been mandatory in Denmark ever since 1993. According to the website The Danish Way, this subject is of very crucial importance in the Danish curriculum. In every Danish school, there is a class called “Klassens tid” that usually occurs one hour per week. In this class, the students( between the ages of 6-16) are allowed and encouraged to share their problems with their classmates and their teachers so they can help each other come up with the best solution to every problem that each and every child in the classroom is going through.

They simply listen and try to help one another. The efforts they put go into finding solutions and being there for one another, not competing with each other. These young children are thought that competition should be practiced exclusively with oneself, not with others. That the focus in life should never be to excel or triumph above others but to join forces and work together through every obstacle in life. To help those in need, to motivate, to inspire, to share your wisdom, to give away your knowledge, and most importantly, to be selfless.

And if they have nothing problematic to share, children often spend that time hanging with each other, relaxing and enjoying hygge. For those of you who are not familiar with hygge, this a word( both verb and adjective) that has no literal translation. To Danish people, it is a concept of well-being. They often use it to describe a certain special feeling or a moment shared with someone dear. It can also be described as a state of absolute bliss and comfort, complete absence of frustrations or anything emotionally overwhelming… or in other words… Pure happiness.

That is, in my opinion, why these people grow up to be happy, mature, and self- fulfilled individuals.

People around the world have written a lot about their practices. But one of the most popular authors that elaborates this topic is the American writer and psychologist Jessica Alexander, author of the book “The Danish Way of Parenting: What the Happiest People in the World Know About Raising Confident, Capable Kids”.

“A child who is naturally talented in mathematics, without learning to collaborate with their peers, will not go much further. They will need help in other subjects. It is a great lesson to teach children from an early age, since no one can go through life alone”, says Jessica Alexander.

She then continues: “Many studies show that when you explain something to someone – like a math problem for example – you not only learn the subject much better than you would do by memorizing it yourself, but you also build our empathy skills which are further strengthened by having to be careful about the way the other person receives the information and having to put oneself in their shoes to understand how learning works”.

Personally, I am speechless. These people, these beautiful human beings are light years ahead of us. We really have a lot to learn from them. If only we could stop behaving so self-absorbed and realize that other people have feelings as well…

Stephanie Reeds