Health & Fitness | March 18, 2022 2:33 pm

Finland Doesn’t Understand Why It Keeps Winning the “Happiest Country” Title

For the fifth year in a row, the Nordic nation is the most content in the world

A view of Helsinki from the harbor.
The "happiest" moniker is actually a bit of a misnomer.
Tapio Haaja/Unsplash

The United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network just released its annual World Happiness Report, and Finland leads the list for the fifth year in a row.

The rest of the top 10 was a group of nations that generally lead the way in global “livability rankings”: Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Sweden, Norway, Israel and New Zealand. The United States placed 16th. (We finished 19th last year, so we can take solace in progress.)

How do the powers that be determine these rankings? Six key criteria are assessed over a three-year average in order to assess “life evaluation”: perceptions of corruption, generosity, freedom to make life choices, healthy life expectancy, social support and GDP per capita.

That “happiest” moniker is a bit of a misnomer. It’s easy fodder for self-help books and tourism boards, but this ranking doesn’t mean that Finland is solely populated with folks who walk around smiling all day long. It’s more an indication of the security and opportunity that the country’s social-democratic system affords its people. Finland is a prosperous country with a massive safety net (its pension system is considered the best in the world), clean air and lakes, little crime, gender equality and a governmental leadership that it trusts.

Finns, for their part, have long seemed a bit confused by these rankings. (It must be somewhat disarming to be told you’ve reached a state of social nirvana that the rest of the planet, including a superpower like America, can only dream about.) Last year, after the country won the title for the fourth year in the row, one Finnish writer said to The New York Times: “[It’s] too much. The weather is like the worst day in London, every day. There’s definitely something in our history that makes us have this kind of low self-esteem as a nation, always feeling like an underdog.”

That said, when the Finns hear questions like “Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?” or “Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?”— which is part of World Happiness Report methodology — they appear to be providing some really positive answers. It probably isn’t constructive to think of Finland as “happiest,” then, but in many ways, the most content. There’s a level of predictability to their daily well-being, which is something the vast majority of people in the 146 countries surveyed.

Of course, this report is already slightly dated, considering geopolitical tension in Finland’s region. It shares a border with Russia, and has no doubt already felt the strain of the Ukrainian conflict, from the hypothetical (Vladimir Putin’s nuclear threats) to the real and present (the millions of refugees fleeing war-torn cities). That level of destabilization crosses borders, literally.

In order to check out the rest of the rankings, head here.