The Happiest Country in the World – Finland Wins It (again): Nordic Traditions in Happiness


Finland is the happiest nation in the world
per the UN Happiness Report
for the 4th straight year.

Today, March 20, is International World Happiness Day! As such, the United Nations has just released its annual World Happiness Report. Unsurprisingly, the Covid19 pandemic features heavily in this year’s report as it disrupted nearly every aspect of life across the entire planet. The overall impact of Covid19 on world happiness was understandably negative: from the 2 million or more people who lost their lives, to those who suffered through infection of the virus, the loss of jobs and income security, the disruption of our social lives and more, the virus took a major toll on happiness. 

According to the UN report, the happiest country in the world for now the fourth straight year, was Finland. Finland was joined in the top ten of happiest countries by fellow Nordic neighbors Iceland, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden, whom along with Finland have occupied a top 10 spot on the report for every year since its inception (a phenomenon that I wrote about previously). 

Part of the reason why we see a top 10 that is overall largely unchanged, and part of the reason why so many nations appear less affected by negative outcomes from Covid19, is that these places already had effective measures in place PRIOR to Covid19, measures that make such places happy any year, and allow them to continue being happy during pandemic year. Trust, believe it or not, was a major factor associated with the spread of Covid19. Trust in both the government, and trust in one’s neighbors and fellow citizens. Finland has consistently ranked nearly perfect in terms of citizens trust in their government, as well as trust in one another. Therefore, when the government implements social lockdown procedures, announces health guidelines and social distancing measures, people trusted their government to be making the right decision, and they trusted one another to abide by the rules. There is an observably high level of social responsibility in Finland. In America we have misguided citizens saying it is their right to do whatever the hell they want, regardless of the consequences to others, while in Finland for example they take it as a personal responsibility to look after and take care of one-another’s health and well-being. I should note that the Finns are notorious for their appreciation of solitude and physical/personal space to begin with, which probably helped limit the spread of the virus. As the report mentions, trust is always a major factor in happiness, not just during a pandemic year. 

Healthcare is of course a major factor toward happiness under any circumstances. The need for quality, affordable, and accessible healthcare becomes of even greater importance during a global health crisis such as that which we saw most of last year and are still dealing with now. Every country in the list of top 10 happiest countries has highly accessible, high quality, and FREE healthcare. There is no shortage of medical equipment, personnel, or medicine. There is no bureaucracy that prevents someone from getting care. And there is no massive medical bill that might cause you to sell your house to afford a life-saving procedure, and there is no need to choose to forego a medical treatment because you are afraid to bankrupt your family. 

Among the major factors attributing to worldwide stress, fear, and generally lower levels of happiness were economic concerns. Worldwide GDP shrank by an estimated 5% while joblessness was reportedly at approximately 20% lower at the end of 2020 as compared to 2019. The UN report states that “unemployment is associated with a 12% decline in life satisfaction.” Understandably, there is a tremendous amount of pressure to provide necessities such as food and shelter for one’s family. In countries like Finland, that already have high levels of social security measures, this isn’t as much of an issue. Finland has measures in place to assure the security of shelter, food and healthcare for those who may lose their jobs, and was even able to guarantee the income levels of a majority of their population, thus alleviating the fear of losing one’s job and mitigating the damages for those who did lose their jobs. In countries without such measures (cough, cough, United States, cough) the loss of jobs posed a serious issue. Unemployment is rampant, and people are unable to feed their families. The pitiful efforts of our partisan government in the United States to care for its citizenry has greatly exacerbated the impact of Covid19, undoubtedly causing more anxiety, fear, suffering, and less happiness. By having previous social security measures in place, such as Finland did, the effects of unforeseen disasters like Covid thus have less of an impact on society. 

Free healthcare sounds nice but seeing
the Northern Lights like this has got to make Finland happy

I think a second issue that arises from the economic effects of Covid is that certain people and certain countries more closely associated economic prowess with their overall identity and sense of happiness. Not to pick on the United States and I know we aren’t alone here but being from here I probably have more insight to our persona than I do other places, but here there seems to be a prevailing attitude that the greatest accomplishment that can be made is the accumulation of wealth and financial success. When we have a year such as we just did, and we suffer economically, this can have a tremendously negative impact on people’s sense of happiness. The risk to associating your happiness with your job is that job can be taken away. If the success of your business correlates to your perceived success as a human, what if that business suffers? In Finland and the other Nordic countries, the attitude differs in that they seem to expect less, are more grateful, and are more content with where they are in the present. If your country is full of people who fully expect to become millionaires but just haven’t had their big break yet, they will likely be less happy than a place where people are happy in the here and now and ready for whatever may or may not come their way. 

Covid19 has disrupted nearly every aspect of our life and had a profoundly negative impact on our planet. We lost millions to the virus, we were forced to isolate and forego quality time with friends and family, we lost our health, we lost jobs, and are still struggling. There are a few positives to be taken from this. First, look to the example of those who have handled this the best. Those countries who have weathered the storm are those who look after their citizens, who provide healthcare at low or no, cost, who take mental health seriously and look after it the way it deserves to be looked after. They have low levels of corruption and work hard to build trust between people and their governments, and between the citizens amongst themselves as well. They listen to science and use it as a guideline when implementing policy, rather than acting selfishly or looking how to exploit a situation for power or financial gain. Finland has done exactly this for many years now and continues to do so, thereby giving them the top spot in the annual World Happiness Report for the 4th straight year. We have much to learn from the example they set. 

Happy World Happiness Day everyone, may today, as every day, be filled with love, joy, and blissful happiness!

Click here to read the full report:

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