Finland: Happiest Country in the World, or not?

Happy Finns Celebrating Midsummer
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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.

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