Expect less, enjoy more – about happiness in Finland

My American friend Darren sent a link to an article about the results of the latest UN happiness index. My native country Finland was number 1 this year. How come?


It cannot be because of the climate. Most of the year it is rather cold and humid, especially in the coastal regions. If the short summer happens to be warm, there are hundreds of trillions of mosquitos, which need water to reproduce. And there is no shortage of water in the over 200 000 lakes and even more wetlands.

The light nights in the short summer do elicit euphoria in a few Finns, who have difficulties to sleep. But it is reversed by long, dark winters when most the only euphoria is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol or maybe of drugs. In fact according to the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare every fifth resident in Finland suffer from depression at one time during his/her life. I don’t believe many other nations can compete with that.

It cannot be because of the geographic position next to the mighty Russia keeping the Finns on their toes. Most likely Russia could occupy Finland in a few weeks or days, should Putin give orders to the Russian military to do so. Therefore Finnish people cannot feel too safe, even though real Finnish men promise to fight to the last man…

It cannot be because of people either. A typical Finn looks sad or at least neutral. It is part of the culture not to smile or engage in small talk with strangers. Some don’t even do it with their family members. Why waste energy being polite or showing interest to other people? Or is it some kind of national shyness leading to looking inwards instead and wondering what others might think of you? I don’t know.

I grew up feeling different because I was too curious about other people and trying to make contact with almost everybody. When foreigners ask me now why I left Finland, I sometimes answer jokingly: “Because I did not fit in. I talked too much”. It is not totally true. I left because I was unemployed and in order to be able to start paying my study loans, I moved to Sweden for a job in the Stockholm’s Social Services. But the following 15 years I did apply for many jobs in Finland without success. I was determined to return to my native country out of some kind of patriotic sentimentality.

Some of the reasons for the Finns being rated as the happiest nation in the world in 2018 I believe relate to Finnish societal values. Everybody is born equal and gets about the some opportunities to almost free health care, education and a variety of social services. Should a person have physical or cognitive disabilities the society gives that person extra care and support in order for all to live as normal a life as possible. It gives many Finns a feeling of pride that they don’t need to rely on relatives or friends, should they still have contact with them. The older Finnish people become, the lonelier they typically get, yet even many young people feel lonely.

However, if you are asked in an international survey whether you are happy, I am sure most Finnish people answer “yes”. As happiness and life satisfaction are related concepts, and objectively considered, everybody should be happy and satisfied in a well-off country with good societal structures, a lot of clean nature and equal opportunities. What else can you expect from your country and your life?

Don’t get me wrong. I do love Finland and praise myself lucky having been born and grown up there. I even travel there as often as I can to visit my friends and relatives. However I doubt whether I ever want to live in Finland again.


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