In 2019, Finland was named as the happiest place on Earth for the second year in a row.
Published by the UN, the World Happiness Report ranked 156 countries by happiness levels, assessing factors such as life expectancy, social support and corruption. Three of Finland’s Nordic cousins, Norway, Denmark and Iceland, took the next consecutive places.
Why are Finnish people so happy? It is not because of the weather, for sure! On a societal level, Finland's success can be attributed to its rigid social safety network, culture of trust, high-quality education, and a strong commitment to gender equality. On a personal level, many Finns cite their connection to nature as an important source of happiness.
Finland has come a long way and put deliberate efforts on creating happiness – it was not served to the Finns on a silver plate.
150 years ago 10% of the Finnish population perished due to a famine. In 1918, a year after Finland gained its independence, the country underwent a painful and divisive civil war. When Finland came out of World War II in 1945, it was one of the poorest nations in Europe. The Finnish happiness and welfare has been built from scratch.
The happiness in Finland stems from a number of policies for welfare, mutual trust, freedom and equality. In recent years, Finland has been named the most stable, the freest and the safest by various international bodies.
Finland has progressive taxation and wealth redistribution, which enables free healthcare, free quality education for all and generous parental leave. A healthy work-life balance ensures that people have the chance to pursue their personal interests and feed their creativity whilst enjoying the world’s cleanest air and pristine nature.
According to Transparency International, Finland is one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Over 80% of Finns trust the country’s police, education and healthcare systems.
Finnish society is equal. Finland is widely considered one of the best places in the world to be a mother and to be a working woman. Finnish fathers, who are also entitled to paid paternity leave, spend the most time with their children globally.
Money does not bring happiness, but economic strength plays a role in keeping the Finnish society stable. Finland is not the richest country in the world but has been capable of handling an unstable global economy. Finland has had its economic slumps, particularly after the Eurozone crisis, but has been quicker than most countries to bounce back. Agile economic policy and Finnish innovativeness have had their role to play in this recovery.
Other national characteristics may also play a part in creating happiness and positive resilience. The Finns have a word, sisu, which means stoic perseverance and grit, whatever comes your way. The International Day of Failure (celebrated annually on 13 October) originates from Finland and carries an important message: without the possibility of failure there is no success, and occasional failure is therefore okay. When innovating and experimenting boldly, a failure may sometimes precede a great success. No wonder Finland emerges as the third most innovative country in the world according to both Bloomberg Innovation Index and International Innovation Scorecard.
The Happiness Report of 2018 also measured immigrant happiness, and Finland topped this category as well. Happy societies are also more willing to accept and integrate immigrants. The supportive social systems and institutions make it harder for people – whether local or newcomers – to fall through the cracks.
(The author is the Ambassador of Finland to India)