Why Are the Finnish People So Happy, Anyway?
The chummy folks do a lot right. But here are three things they don't do.
Visit Finland launched an inventive campaign, a few years back, in which lucky travelers could “rent a Finn” upon arriving in the Nordic nation. A man named Esko hosted an American family in his summer cottage. Timo took three Italian siblings on a boat ride around Lake Saimaa. Katja showed a German student named Madeline how much nature lies within Helsinki’s city limits.
The idea was to show the foreigners what it’s like to relax, amble, eat and simply pass the time as a Finn, who are evidently better at all the above than everyone else throughout the globe. After all, the country was ranked the happiest in the world yet again in 2022, taking the top slot for an absurd fifth year in a row.
Finns are no longer available for rent, unfortunately, though some wisdom from some of their happiest locals is easily accessible here, in a series of “virtual happiness guides” that Visit Finland published during the pandemic.
But as psychologists continue to riff on what, exactly, makes the country so happy (the World Happiness Report is a 158-page PDF, FYI), it’s nice to get a neighborhood authority on the matter. And a Finnish psychologist recently named three things that Finns “never do,” which he believes are critical to their happiness.
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The list, courtesy of Dr. Frank Martela:
- Finns don’t compare themselves to their neighbors
- Finns don’t cheat their communities
- Finns don’t undervalue the nature around them
Those first two play off each other well. The Finnish people maintain a healthy relationship with those in their immediate world. Instead of burning red with envy over what’s sitting in someone else’s driveway, or attending town halls to spiritedly explain why a neighbor shouldn’t be allowed to build a pool (a bizarrely common occurrence in American suburbia), Finns focus on quality of life issues that service everyone — low crime, safe commutes for schoolchildren, clean and walkable streets.
No surprise that those sensibilities mesh well with a veneration for nature (if you’re the world’s leading nation in returning found wallets, chances are you’ll be more sympathetic to other living beings, like…trees). But Finns don’t just preserve and protect nature, with some of the most ambitious carbon neutral goals on the planet, they proactively engage with it, every single day. It’s elemental to their being. And not in spite of the cold and their 3 p.m. sunsets, but often because time outside is so precious.
Finns snowshoe in the winter, swim at cottages in the summer, and hit the sauna year-round. And while the nation’s population is overwhelmingly urban (standing at 85%), those many millions of people make sure to make use of the nature that’s right in their backyard, with sea pools in Helsinki harbor and city forests that stretch over 2,000 acres.
Can you still be miserable in nature? Of course. And sometimes a community won’t match whatever effort you put into it. But you’ll likely be happier for your efforts, or your insistence on going outside another day, and giving it another go. When a bunch of people resolve to act this way, you get cleaner rivers and better policies and eventually, happier people. So even if you can’t rent a Finn anymore, try renting their philosophy this year, and seeing where it takes you. You’ll be happy you did.
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