For the Love of Cod

An intergenerational search for Norwegian happiness

For the Love of Cod

Photo: Kristin Klassert
For the Love of Cod: A Father and Son’s Search for Norwegian Happiness is Eric Dregni’s latest book documenting his 15-year-old son’s return to the country of his family’s Nordic ancestors.

KAJA GJELDE
Poulsbo, Wash.

Professor of English, Italian, and journalism at Concordia University in St. Paul, Minn., and author of multiple works featuring the Nordic American experience, Eric Dregni presents his most recent travelogue, For the Love of Cod: A Father and Son’s Search for Norwegian Happiness. While documenting his 15-year-old son’s return to the country of their Nordic ancestors, Dregni informally investigates how Norway has come to consistently rate in the top 10 happiest countries in the world and poses the question of whether this Norwegian happiness works in other contexts.

Dregni had the privilege of living in Norway though the generous support of the U.S.-Norway Fulbright Foundation, which precipitated the book In Cod we Trust: Living the Norwegian Dream. While living in Trondheim, Dregni and his wife, Katy, welcomed their first-born son, Eilif, into the world (along with a financial support package from the Norwegian government).

In this sequel a decade and a half in the making, Dregni travels back to the country of Eilif’s birth to show him their family’s origins. The Dregni (originally Drægni before the name was changed or misspelled coming through Ellis Island), family’s immigration story to the Midwest is reminiscent of that of many Scandinavian Americans. Dregni’s family was pushed out of Norway by poverty and pulled to the United States as the land of opportunities—a recognizable narrative for many Norwegian Americans.

Now one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the author questions whether Norway today is also one of the happiest. To accomplish this task, Dregni integrates his own research and observations from his time living in Trondheim with personal anecdotes from their Norwegian tour as well as those of friends and colleagues whom he and his son visit over the course of their travels.

Laid out in short chapters with Norwegian titles to highlight the language, Dregni introduces an array of Norwegian terms and concepts that grant non-norsk readers insight into the contemporary Norwegian mindset and lifestyle. While almost everyone described in the book has their own interpretation of Norwegian happiness, if they believe it exists at all, most express a common desire for community and the social security that accompanies it. Despite their reputation for being more reserved, Dregni highlights Norwegians’ sense of social obligation to one another, working as individuals for the better of the whole in discussing the concept of dugnad or “communal work.”

Refreshingly, Dregni’s take on Norwegian happiness not only highlights the aspects of modern Norway that are appealing but also includes current social and political topics of discussion in Norway. In his data analysis, the author does not shy from contentious political topics, as he discusses foreigner’s views and misconceptions of Norwegians as well as Norwegian’s perspectives on the United States. In essence, no country is perfect. Comparing Norway to other countries, Dregni does breach rather contentious topics, but it is not with the intention of alienating the reader rather for providing diverse perspectives in an attempt to uncover the secret to Nordic contentment. In and of itself, the book is meant as a catalyst to continue these ongoing conversations about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness.

From UFOs to belligerent moose to Catherine Zeta-Jones, Eric Dregni invites readers to accompany him and his son Eilif on their whirlwind Norwegian tour. For the Love of Cod centers on relationships. In dialogue with the reader, the author details the findings of his investigation into what is Norwegian happiness and how this formerly occupied and impoverished country has come to be consistently ranked one of the happiest in the world according to the World Happiness Report. 

Presenting a plethora of perspectives, Dregni entices the reader to join in the cross-cultural discussion. Though Eric Dregni problematizes some view of Norway as a utopia, he also clarifies that the advantageous ways in which Norwegians find happiness are not exclusive to Norway and that lessons for how to live a happy life can be transferred from one cultural context to the next.

This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Kaja Gjelde

Kaja Gjelde received a master’s degree in Indigenous studies (2020) from UiT the Arctic University of Norway as both a U.S.-Norway Fulbright Grantee and a Norway-America Association Scholar. An independent writer and researcher, Gjelde currently curates Nordiska’s blog, writes for Women at Warp, a feminist science fiction podcast, and publishes articles via StarTrek.com.

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