Finland is the Happiest country, again! For the fourth year in a row, the country scored the highest and ranks top of the list. Read all about it here!
Some general thoughts – derived from a Clubhouse conversation I co-hosted on the topic with Eva, Pukhraj and Arto:
- How Finns define happiness: whenever talking about this report to Finns, and about the question of what happiness means, many of the things mentioned kind of refer to a more outward understanding of happiness. Things like nature and a working society came up often, whereas, in other cultures/countries, the meaning of happiness seems to be more closely connected with things like community and belonging.
- The meaning of happiness in Finnish: the sheer meaning of the word “onnellisuus” has a very strong meaning in Finland. Being happy in English is something that many perceive as something more casual, you can easily be happy about something, but being thoroughly, genuinely, deeply happy is a different status. The same actually in German (my native language): “glücklich sein” has a much more impactful meaning that how we often interpret it in English.
- How local foreigners feel about Finland being the happiest country: there seem to be two camps here – those that wholeheartedly agree and feel proud about this result and those who experience a lot of frustration and disbelief. The latter camp ignites a whole different conversation, as to how integration and being a foreigner in Finland is related to the opportunity of experiencing true happiness in Finland. And that is an entirely different article in the making.
- Why do Finns have a hard time accepting that there is happiness here? Finns are naturally not really a nation that complains a lot, nor are they a folk that is really good at debating. But they are just as incapable at accepting a compliment, and the humble character that is deeply embedded in the Finnish culture also comes into play here. That being said, a lot of the things that lead Finland to the top of the list, are factually true and the top position is justified. And people tend to take many things for granted, if there are no serious worries in their lives. So most importantly…
- Are we really talking about Happiness here? If we look at the parameters that this study was conducted over, we quickly notice that a lot of them are in fact something that is measurable. But can you really quantify happiness? Debatable. The World Happiness report has received some criticism in regards to that, because what does happiness really mean and is that what is reflected in this study? According to many, this report should really be about “worrying least” or “contentedness”. Because happiness is way too subjective to put into numbers.
So what really made Finland top of the list? Here is my take.
1 – Things just work: personally, this is one of the main things that really make my life here easy and smooth, and that has definitely contributed to a lot of misery in other places I lived in – stuff works. Busses come on time, the streets are cleared from snow and otherwise maintained well, my grocery orders arrive when it’s supposed to, my invoices get paid – lots of little things that make life worthwhile just WORK. For more on this, see #4.
2 – Nature is all around us & the Everyman’s Right: nature is a big part of Finnish life, and even in the Capital city of Helsinki, we’re surrounded by the sea, National parks, islands and beautiful woods. Nature is free to use for anyone, if you want to go hike, pick berries or camp out – you can. Forest therapy is real, spending time in nature has proven to have a positive effect on our well-being, it reduces stress and anxiety and benefits our physical health as well. With nature easily accessible, it makes a big difference for everyone.
3 – Time and respect for it: time is valuable, especially your free time. Regular working hours and weekends are respected, overtime and overworking isn’t praised or encouraged. The toxic hustle culture has no place in Finland.
4 – Digitalisation in practice: Finland is a country that isn’t afraid to try new things, and invest in pioneering technology. Digitalisation in Finland works and is a prime example of how successful implementation can benefit society as a whole, on an everyday basis. Need to refill your prescription? Log in to the National health service with your bank ID, and a few clicks later you’re done. Some documents you have to order from city hall or your insurance? Takes a few minutes. Things that in many countries can take literal weeks, is a few taps away. It’s efficient, secure and to me just proof of how it should be in this day and age. Oh, and there’s strong internet everywhere.
5 – Transparency and trust: especially in times of life in a pandemic, the trust in the government has never been more present. While nobody claims things went perfectly, there was little overall serious doubt in the strategy from Sanna Marins team. Of course, there was criticism and especially online the critics were very loud, but in the end, the results speak for themselves. But also in other parts of life, you can trust what’s happening. Both in my professional and personal life, you can trust on something that’s been agreed, there is no doubt in a persons sincerity or trustworthiness – if you mess things up, you lose peoples trust. But you don’t have to fight for it to begin with.
6 – A safe place to be: The part of safety goes a long way, when it comes to safe streets, low crime rates and a general feeling of being able to walk home alone at night without constant fear. Again – not saying that nothing ever happens – but in the big picture this is absolutely relevant.
7 – Real seasons: now, this is to be disputed as a good or a bad thing, but from what I’ve heard and seen, a majority of people can appreciate the proper seasonal changes and conditions that go with it. We can both experience a beautiful, bright and clear winter with lots of snow and deep minus temperatures, watch the Northern lights dance; but also a hot and gorgeous summer with 30+ degrees, where we can swim in the lakes and stay up all night and take in the midnight light.
8 – A clean environment that is looked after: Finland, and even its cities, have some of the cleanest, safest air. The same goes for the water, actually! The tap water comes straight from the lakes and its both delicious and good for you. The streets and parks are clean and taken care of. I always say, that I feel like people in Finland grow up with a deeper understanding and appreciation of nature, because it is all so omnipresent here.
9 – Freedom: Finland is a country that is proud to take care of its people, and it reflects in peoples perception of freedom in many ways. The Finnish welfare state is a prime example of how people can really rely that things will be okay for you. There’s freedom here to try new things, to maybe also fail, you can love whomever you want and much more. See this article for my personal Helsinki Freedoms.
10 – My favourite point on the list – Appreciating the little things: this concludes everything the most perfect – Finns have genuine appreciation for the small things in life, and the overall feeling of people living here is just being content. It’s not really in the nature of the Finnish people to complain a lot, and I guess this plays well into this ranking. We can enjoy simple things there, like a great cup of coffee, the smell of the forest in spring, the train coming on time, trustworthy and helpful neighbours, street maintenance in winter, clean beaches and silence.