Minnesota author seeks Norwegian happiness in “For the Love of Cod”
Not everyone sees it. Over the past five years, Norway has topped the World Happiness Report’s list of happiest countries, coming in sixth this year, a steady drop from first place in 2017.
Eric Dregni had his own experiences in the Scandinavian country, having stayed there as a teenager with his father, then returning there a year as an adult 17 years ago.
A few years ago, the writer from Minnesota returned, this time with his teenage son, to visit the country where the boy was born.
The trip culminated in Dregni’s 20th book, “For the Love of Cod: Father and Son’s Search for Norwegian Happiness”.
Eric Dregni’s book, “For the Love of Cod”. Courtesy of University of Minnesota Press / Forum Special
Norway’s key to happiness is systematically ingrained, says Dregni.
âNorway is pretty square,â he says, referring to strong health care and pension systems, and the poverty gap is significantly smaller than here in America.
âIn Norway, they basically beat poverty,â he says. “Happiness is more about security and sharing, not super capitalism and chasing the almighty dollar, or rather the crown.”
This idea of ââsharing is important because the country has a strong sense of community and identity.
âIn Norway, it’s really pronounced. What does it mean to be Norwegian? In America, that is constantly changing, âhe says.
Part of the Norwegian identity is one of perseverance, as a number of agricultural disasters resulted in heavy immigration to America in the 1800s.
Author Eric Dregni. Photo courtesy of Eric Dregni / Special at the Forum
âItalians are happy, they laugh and sing. But they also have high expectations, so they get angry when they don’t get it, âsays Dregni. âIn Norway it’s more like ‘We’re alive, so it’s pretty good. It could get worse.
The other thing Norwegians are proud to survive is winter.
âI’d rather spend a Midwestern winter than a Norwegian winter any day,â says Dregni. âIt’s very cold that freezes you to the bone and it didn’t seem like the happiest country to me.
But some aspects of Norwegian identity can be based on what people think Norwegian identity should be. It shows how a number of ancient stave churches have been updated and embellished to look like what some people may think old Norway looked like.
âThe Norwegian identity is more fabricated,â says Dregni.
One of these stave churches was the Fantoft stave church in Bergen, which his great-grandfather attended. This stavkyrkje was destroyed by arson in 1992, the first of a number of old churches burnt down by black metal enthusiasts, a bit of history that caught the attention of Dregni’s son Eilif. The boy was also interested to learn that the Vikings were not drunk during raids as much as they were depicted, but sometimes under the influence of psychedelic mushrooms.
Eilif and Eric Dregni in a stave church in Norway a few years ago. Photo courtesy of Eric Dregni / Special at the Forum
Dregni recalls his first visit to the country as a teenager with his father and how he failed to learn much of the history at the time.
âHis view was much more modern. What he thought of Norway was very different from what I thought of Norway, âDregni says of Eilif.
Having written about weird attractions in “Weird Minnesota,” does he have a favorite Norwegian attraction from Minnesota?
“Oh man. Where do I start?” he says. “I would say the (Kensington) Runestone, but people get so mad about it.”
The 200-pound slab of inscribed stone was discovered in a field near Alexandria, Minnesota, in 1898 and many have said it was left by Scandinavian explorers in the 14th century. While scholars have since dismissed it as a hoax, many still believe in its authenticity.
He explains that there will be tours from visiting Norwegians to the Kensington Runestone Museum in Alexandria and other Nordic attractions in the state, including the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead.
âThere’s this idea that they want to show they were there,â he says. âNorwegians speak of the Midwest as if it was their colony. This is their domain.
He thinks for a second.
âIf I was traveling to another country, the last thing I would want to see is a bunch of Americans,â he says.