Categories
finland health

Finland: Happiest Country in the World, or not?

Finland has been ranked the happiest country in the world for the past two years. Yet how many jovial Finns have you met? Let me explain what happiness means in Finland…

World Happiness Report

First of all, can happiness be measured? Yes, if you ask the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network. According to their annual Happiness Report: “…the quality of people’s lives can be coherently, reliably, and validly assessed by a variety of subjective well-being measures, collectively referred to then and in subsequent reports as ‘happiness’.” The report takes into consideration these key aspects of life: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity.

Top 10 happiest countries, according to the report:

  1. Finland
  2. Denmark
  3. Norway
  4. Iceland
  5. Netherlands
  6. Switzerland
  7. Sweden
  8. New Zealand
  9. Canada
  10. Austria

What is happiness?

If happiness can be calculated then we need to define what equals happiness. Finland seems to have discovered the formula.

Yet, Finland’s ranking surprised many, especially Finns themselves. After the release of the report many Finns expressed disbelief on social media. Finland, after all, is a country known for its melancholia and lack of small talk. Also, the PR sets a rather high standard. What if Finland doesn’t live up to the hype?

Happiness in Finland is not what one might think. It doesn’t mean you walk smiling like somebody just cracked a super joke. In Finland you don’t need to feel great all the time to consider yourself content. In fact, Finland has high levels of depression, which is the number one cause of early retirement in the country according to a recent study done by the Finnish Centre For Pensions. The country also has relatively high rates of suicide.

So what is happiness? In Finland, it means not necessarily feeling very joyful all the time. Instead, it means feeling OK and that even if life gets tough you’ll stay OK. And that is the key.

No Worry, No Cry

Happiness is not about feeling extreme highs all the time. Of course, you also don’t want to feel extreme lows all the time. Happiness is about having your emotions somewhere in the centre most of the time. To attain this, Finns rely on a safety net provided by the state. Finns know that that the state is where they can get help if it all becomes less bearable.

In Finland, happiness means that when you lose your job the state gives you a decent unemployment income that gets you through the temporary rough period. Happiness in Finland is when you injure yourself you can go to a hospital and get high quality care without worrying about breaking the bank. Happiness in Finland is that when you find out you are expecting a child you don’t have to start calculating pennies to make sure you can afford it.

Simply put: Happiness in Finland is not having to worry when, pardon my french, shit hits the fan. A future post will get into the ‘nanny state’, though that type of mentality is, sensibly, not widely expressed in Finland.

Everyone wants to be happy. But let me suggest we stop calling Finns happy altogether. A better word to describe them would be to say they are carefree. On a happiness scale of 1-10, most Finns stand in the middle.

Categories
education finland

You Need Education, Like It Or Not

The Finnish government elected in April 2019 is surely not dancing to the tune of “I don’t Need No Education” by legendary band Pink Floyd. On the contrary, the government has decided to increase mandatory education by three years. This “forces” all Finns to attend upper secondary education.

Tough choice

Allow us to continue with cliches: The Youth is our future. Nobody can argue against that. Compelling all citizens to have this additional education is an investment on Finland’s future. Yet this decision was reached only after some debate in late May as the Collation Party (Kokoomus) was initially reluctant, stating that the costs were too high compared to potential benefits.

It will be hard to say if the level of unemployment among young people will go down thanks to this new change in the education system. Many education experts in Finland see this as an unlikely scenario and none of the leaders of the largest vocational schools in the country support making the mandatory education longer, according to Yle survey. This could have something to do with the fact that the vocational school funding has been directly connected to how many students finish the school since 2018. Making the upper secondary schools mandatory for all kids will most likely increase the level of drop-outs, hence lowering the funding for these schools.

Finland’s Pity 5s

Already today, kids are pushed out of the mandatory primary school with “pity 5s” (the lowest passing grade in Finnish school), rather than making them repeat grades. These kids are the ones with little or no motivation for traditional schooling. The idea is that if you make them repeat a grade their motivational level becomes even lower, but this way of thinking often backfires. If there is no threat of failing many of the kids quit altogether. Teachers have to chase after them at the end of each semester to make sure that they have done all their exams. In the end, they get to use a book so that they get a passing “pity 5”.

Are these type of kids going to be motivated by extra mandatory education? Seems unlikely. On the contrary, they now have to attend the upper secondary levels without the necessary skills and are likely to drop out later and possibly become even more discouraged.

An alternative solution?

The best way to get these kids motivated would be to help them find their own interests. Providing a more customizable educational experience for kids that just don’t do well in traditional school would be beneficial. A system where they can discover different skills and find their true passions.

Of course, this approach also requires extra investment. However, rather than ‘wasting’ money making kids that don’t do well in school stay in school, this could provide higher returns of investment by connecting to students to their natural inclinations and allowing them to develop skills around those.

Upshot

The good thing about the change in the education system is that it does make it completely free to attend upper secondary schools. It used to be that kids would attend the school for free but they would have to buy the books and supplies themselves. This could add up to hundreds of euros annually and put a strain on lower income families who were already scraping by to begin with.

Categories
finland Politics tax

New Government Jumps Finland ahead of the Environmental Game | Drink Alcohol and be Taxed More!

Finland’s newly formed government has announced its agenda, highlighting environmental issues, job generation and social equality. The new programme aims to make Finland carbon-neutral by 2035. This goal makes Finland a top country in Europe in regards to aspirations for decreasing its environmental impact.

The programme makes massive promises and has left many wondering wether it is too ambitious. The EUR1.2 billion needed to implement all the “improvements” has to come from somewhere. To increase revenue the government, lead by Prime Minister Antti Rinne (SDP), aims to increase taxes by EUR750 million.

Sinners Be Damned

Some of that EUR750 million in additional tax revenue will come from a so-called ‘sin tax’ which includes tax hikes on tobacco, alcohol and sugary drinks.

Yle News calculated that alcohol tax would mean that those winenistas consuming a bottle of wine per week would see their spending increase by about EUR10.92 per year. This could potentially increase ‘booze rallies’ to Estonia, which recently decided to lower its alcohol tax by 25% in order to increase foreigners’ alcohol spending in Estonia. Even before the alcohol tax hike, booze in Finland is substantially more expensive compared to Estonia. For example one bottle of Australian Yellow Tail Shiraz costs €10.54 in Alko and just €2.60 in Liviko store in Estonia.

Despite booze being substantially cheaper in Estonia even before the tax reduction, which will be implemented on July 1, 2019, Tallinn is concerned over revenue losses from alcohol sales to Finnish travelers. Just two years ago Estonia hiked its alcohol tax by 70%, which made many residents of Finland travel further south to Latvia for cheap booze.

“[Following the tax increase] Estonia lost a third of their alcohol tax revenue last year, mainly to Latvia.” Managing director of the Finnish Grocery Trade Association (PTY), Kari Luoto, said to Yle News.

Estonia’s new tax reduction might have a limited impact though since Latvia may follow suit, according to Bloomberg.

The Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) calculated that Finnish travellers imported the equivalent of 7.1 million litres of pure alcohol in 2018. In 2017 this figure was 6.9 million litres. It is yet to be seen if Estonia’s tax reduction and Finland’s tax hike will increase the level of imported alcohol in 2019.