Finland – The Happiest Country in the World


Happy World Happiness Day!

The world happiness day is celebrated around the world today. In Finland, it’s a normal Wednesday.  In late March it means that it’s a grey day and raining, but all of the snow still hasn’t melted. Oh wait, the rain just turned into snow. I check Twitter, where people are talking about the World Happiness Report, in hopes of finding any happy Finns. It’s an insider joke – everyone here knows you only go to Twitter to complain about things. But I’m persistent. What makes Finns happy today? I find some answers. Family, nature, freedom. Walks in the forest, safety. Having a roof over your head. Being healthy, living in peace. Good education, safe food. Sounds like we Finns live and breathe Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and when the pyramid has a solid foundation, there is some happiness on the top too. “Being born in Finland is like winning a lottery” is a Finnish saying that I quite didn’t understand before living in other countries. After 20 years of living in other countries, I moved back to Finland because now I agree. The infrastructure, the way things are taken care of, the basics for our well-being – they are all just taken care of in Finland. And it’s not like I had bad countries to experience – ten years were in the USA and then some years in Germany, Canada, and Sweden. All great countries, where I was happy. Just not feeling quite the same as in Finland.

Finland is the happiest country in the world

The World Happiness Report 2019 results are in, and Finland is the happiest country in the world, now the second year in a row, and now even more ahead of the second runner up, Denmark. Finland’s happiness has also been rising since 2014, the report says. The World Happiness Report surveys the state of happiness of 156 countries and Gallup World Poll has been a primary source of global data behind the life satisfaction rankings. This year’s World Happiness Report focuses on happiness and the community: how happiness has evolved over the past dozen years, with a focus on the technologies, social norms, conflicts and government policies that have driven those changes. The World Happiness Report also measures social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, job security, corruption level, and LGBTQ rights. While many Finns think we should be doing much better on all of these – we still rank up. But how do you really measure happiness? Is happiness a subjective feeling or something else? There is some critique to the method of measuring happiness, and Gallup World Poll could be measuring more of an overall wellbeing than happiness. But can you truly be happy, if you are not also feeling safe, or if you are feeling angry or threatened?

What is Happiness in Finland really like?

Finnish happiness is not being over the top happy or exited. It’s more of being content, and focusing on making everyday life a little bit better than grand gestures or experiences of a lifetime. But can you be happy without showing you are happy? I guess I am questioning this a little bit because when I walk around Helsinki, I don’t see many “happy people”. Actually when I smile, and open a door to someone, I am usually thanked in English (not in Finnish, my native language), because something in my mannerism must say that I am not a Finn. The everyday politeness is almost non-existent, and the nation’s favorite pass time is complaining. Actually one of the biggest differences in the culture here and the United States is the complaining. Even if things are generally OK, Finns complain much more than Americans in general. But Finns don’t just complain, they take an initiative to fix things. Ah. That’s it. Finns are not complainers really, we are fixers. When things go wrong, the average American is much more likely to find a silver-lining than the average Finn is. But Finns – we are willing to fight to the end to get something fixed for the better. And Finns don’t do it for the glory or for the thanks, but because it’s the right thing to do. Finnish greatness often goes unnoticed, and even now when the global attention to our happiness is being noticed, we’d rather not make too much noice about it.

Does having money matter?

The statistics used in the World Happiness Report focus on economics and the rational side of what people do: what they spend, how much they make and whether they have a job. But traditional metrics like these might not tell us much about people’s happiness. They say more about well-being and economical wealth. United States is leading with the GDP, but in the happiness index US comes 19th. Finland’s GDP is 45th in the world. But compared to everyday life in the US, the average Finn doesn’t seem that well off. We live in small houses, we drive old cars or take the bus, the lavish lifestyles don’t exist here (Finnish luxury is drinking sparkling wine wearing handmade wool socks watching a lake view in the middle of nowhere). We are content in a different way. The difference is that in Finland our kids go to school for free (even college), eat a free lunch, get child allowance from the government, and our health care costs pennies, or is free. The everyday worries are different than in many other countries. Honestly, it’s not the people, it’s not the weather, it’s not the disposable income we have that makes us Finns as a nation happy. It’s the infrastructure of putting the collective content ahead of individual or corporate happiness. Money matters, but seems like when it comes to happiness it matters more what governments do with the money than individuals.

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