It’s all smiles in Finland as they are voted the happiest country in the world
The UN’s World Happiness Report, which measures subjective well-being, has announced Finland as 2018’s happiest place on Earth.
Historically, Nordic countries consistently top this annual report. This year was no exception, with Finland knocking last year’s winner Norway into second place and both Denmark and Iceland earning the third and fourth spot. With short summers and harsh winters, it must be more than flat-pack furniture, minimalist interiors and fair isle jumpers that make the Nordics such a cheerful place to be. Which begs the question, why are they so happy?
A healthy balance between work and personal lives, coupled with flexible working practices must be a big contributor to happiness.
Breakfast and dinner with the family is prioritised over early morning meetings and after-work drinks, the latest you can pick your children up from day care is 4.30pm and working at the weekend is unheard of.
In Norway, the average working week is only 33 hours and many Danes enjoy the freedom of choosing when they start their working day. Swedes have two mandatory 15 minute breaks built into their working day to relax and lunch breaks are often at a designated time encouraging employees to leave their desks and socialise with their peers.
An untranslatable culture
Nordic countries have their own unique culture that encourages indulgence in life’s simple pleasures. This lifestyle is so unique the words used to describe it cannot be singularly translated.
Danish “hygge”, Swedish “mysa” and Norwegian “koselig” are best described as a cultural concept that promotes whatever makes you feel good, whether this be a hot drink in front of a roaring fire, an afternoon with a good book or a walk in the park.
Back to nature
Free access to green public spaces gives Nordic residents the freedom to relax and exercise. Research shows that spending time in fresh air, surrounded by nature, increases energy in 90 percent of people. It also boosts immune systems, increases productivity and improves memory and mental health.
High taxes (yes, it’s a good thing)
Nordic residents may have some of the highest rates of tax but contributions are reinvested into social programmes, including healthcare, education and public transport.
This results in medical appointments often being on the same day you schedule them, free university tuition and public transport that is generally clean and on time. Maternity and paternity leave is more generous than elsewhere in the world and in Finland new parents receive maternity aid from the state to help them adjust to their new arrival. They can chose between 140 Euros free of tax or a baby box containing up to 60 items including clothes, bedding and children’s books.
At a time when political crises are making history across the world, Finland is topping another poll; a poll of countries that have the most trust in their institutions, closely followed by Denmark and Sweden.
Operating with integrity and adopting transparent, practices the Nordic system of governance earns the trust and respect of the population. This influences mutual social trust between people.
Trust also brings a sense of community. “Talkoot”, a Finnish term for a “collective effort with a tangible goal” proves the importance that is placed on communal projects where individuals engage with each other for the benefit of the group. The value of social unity in turn provides a basis for general economic productivity and growth, a sense of belonging, trust and happiness.
Can the rest of the world live as happily as those in the Nordics? There may be some way to go but go for a walk this Friday afternoon, treat yourself to a little indulgence tonight and volunteer for a community project this weekend and your spirits may be lifted until Monday morning.