In October 2009, Oprah traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark's charming capital city, to support Chicago's bid for the 2016 Olympics. Well, Chicago didn't get picked, but that didn't stop Oprah from enjoying her first visit to the country that's considered one of the happiest places on earth.
For the past 30 years, scientific researchers and survey results have all reached the same conclusion—Danes are consistently happier than the rest of the world. On the "world map of happiness"—a map created by a social psychologist in England—Switzerland, Austria and Iceland rank just below Denmark on the happiness scale. Canada comes in at number 10, while the United States is a distant 23rd.
So what makes the Danes so happy? Oprah met up with Nanna Norup, a resident of Copenhagen, to find out. As they walk down the cobblestone streets, Nanna explains some of the differences between Denmark and America.
For instance, in Copenhagen, people are very environmentally conscious. A third of the population rides bikes around the city, many with grocery bags or small children in tow.
Homelessness, poverty and unemployment are also extremely rare in this nation of 5.5 million people. If you lose your job, Nanna says the government continues to pay up to 90 percent of your salary for four years. And not to worry...healthcare is free for everyone.
The Danish government also takes a special interest in mothers and their children. Women typically get six to 12 months in paid maternity leave. And, when it's time to go to college, citizens get paid to go the universities. "When you go to university, then you get paid $400 or $500," Nanna says. "You have free education. Then, you have healthy, well-educated people in the world. What could beat that?"
Women in Denmark also don't feel pressure to get married. Nanna is 44 years old and single, and she says she didn't grow up dreaming of a bridal gowns and weddings. "It's never been a dream of mine," she says. "I don't think my girlfriends had that dream."
Stine, one of Nanna's friends, says she had three children with her partner before they decided to get married.
While visiting another family, Oprah discovers one more reason to be happy in Copenhagen—a delicious bread called Rugbrød! "I so love it," Oprah says. "I have a slice every morning. ... It's like eating earth."
Rio De Janeiro is synonymous with white sand beaches, hot bodies and Carnival. Come 2016, it will also be the first city in South America to have ever hosted an Olympic games.
Aline, a married mother of three, says Rio is one of the most beautiful cities in the world—thanks, in part, to its beaches and body-conscious culture. "People from Rio, they exercise a lot in order to stay fit because we spend most of our time with less clothes than any other place in the world," she says.
Brazilians also spend millions each year on plastic surgery. "Our surgeons are well known as the best in the world. It's also cheap here. You can also pay them in installments, so it makes it easy to have plastic surgery," she says. "I think it's just a person's choice."
In this city of 6 million, the economic differences among its people are vast—one-fifth of the population lives in the slums. "Rio is a city of economic contrast because we have the poor living just together with the rich ones and the middle classes," Aline says.
Most people who own homes pay for them in cash. "I don't know anyone here who has mortgages," she says. "I know a lot of people that rent when you can't afford to buy."
Aline owns a unit in a high-rise building. Her kids have their own bedrooms and share a bathroom. Aline and her husband share the master bath, which is filled with her beauty products. "Like every woman, I love to have shampoos and creams and perfumes," she says. "[It's] typical for women to have thousands of shampoos."
Regardless of economic status, family and faith are very important to Brazilians. Children often live at home well after they've finished college—and they think the family that prays together, stays together. "We are very keen on praying every day, so we teach [our children] when they are very young," Aline says.
To see how others in Rio live, Aline visits the home of her housekeeper, Maria. Maria lives in what's called a "favela" neighborhood. "A good translation would be slums," Aline says.
Located in a bustling neighborhood of stores, Maria's home is significantly smaller than Aline's—a bedroom is only big enough to hold a twin bed. "The thing that really got me amazed was the size of the place," she says. "I more or less expected the conditions that they have there. I didn't expect to see so many stores and shops. Maria lives in a very nice favela. There [are] no drugs inside of it, so she feels very safe there."
Because Brazil has one of the world's highest crime rates, Aline says security is a top priority for every citizen. "We never hide that security is one of our main problems in Rio," she says.
Still, Aline says the best thing about Rio is its people. "We are very optimistic, Brazilians in general," she says.
Thirty years ago, Dubai, the most populous state in the United Arab Emirates, was little more than a smattering of buildings spread out across the desert sand. Now, it's a bustling metropolis known as the "pearl of the Persian Gulf."
This multicultural city is home to beautiful mosques, stone streets, high-end shopping and the world's tallest building.
Dr. Lamees Hamdan, a mother of four from Dubai, lives in a five-bedroom home across the street from her aunt's and mother-in-law's houses. "It's very traditional to live close to your in-laws," she says. "I love it. I think it's great to be able to see family every day."
Lamees says many wealthy families in Dubai have help around the house—maids, drivers and personal chefs. "I don't do much cooking here," she says. "My mother-in-law has a chef and a central kitchen, so it's sort of like Everybody Loves Raymond, but instead of annoying mother-in-law, I actually have a very sweet one who sends me three meals a day."
But, Lamees says, not everyone in Dubai is rich. "That's the biggest misconception and the biggest myths that there are," she says. "Yes, there are the very wealthy, but there are the middle class. And there are those that are struggling on an everyday basis."
Another difference between people in Dubai and America is the way they dress. In the United Arab Emirates, a Muslim nation, Lamees says most women over the age of 60 wear body-covering dresses and a burqa, which covers the face.
Men typically wear the traditional kandura, which Lamees' husband, Shahab, says is his business suit, T-shirt and tuxedo all in one.
Despite the difference, Lamees says women in her country have a lot in common with other wives and mothers around the world. "We're all working moms. We all have the same priorities. We all face the same challenges," she says. "But I think that just because we have maybe more help here, it's a little bit easier."
Istanbul, Turkey, is a city of two continents—Europe and Asia. Nuvide, an Istanbul resident, lives on the European side and can see Asia from her window.
A progressive Muslim country, women are free to wear whatever they like, and Nuvide says Turkish women love to shop. "Woman is woman everywhere in the world," she says. "We shop till we drop, but we usually shop for shoes."
Education is a priority for women, but family often comes first. "You can finish two universities. You can do PhD and master's degrees," she says. "But there is a reality that a woman of Turkey—at 32 years, on average—quits her job because the family and the children are more important."
The Turks also have a unique way of saving. People collect gold coins and keep them under their pillows—not always in banks. "If there is an economic crisis, you can pull your bag out from under your pillow or under your bed full of the gold coins and the crisis is solved," she says. "It's a very good way for saving."
In Tokyo, Japan, another of the world's most populated metropolises, people tend to work long hours and live in small homes.
Misako, a working mother of a 4-year-old, says it's customary to take off your shoes when you enter someone's home. And though she works as a translator, Misako says Japanese women traditionally stay home with their children.
Most people also don't know that some Japanese women are very self-conscious. For instance, Misako says many women's public restrooms are equipped with a device called a "sound princess," which makes enough noise to camouflage bodily functions.