Finland’s Lessons On Well Being
I don't recall when I bookmarked this article or it's source. It's interesting that the UN ranks countries on the nebulous concept of happiness. To me it's like enthalpy -- you can't directly measure it. But I guess if they are consistent in how they come up with a happiness score then it might be a useful exercise.
The article seems to use well being and happiness as synonyms, which I don't think they are. And while I'm being critical (!), I would think joy would be a more appropriate measure. I distinguish between happiness and joy in that happiness is dependent on external influences while joy is associated with your internal feelings.
Anyway ... I do like the reasons they identify as why the Finns are happy -- especially resilience and contentment. (Although I would think contentment is more easily found in a small homogeneous country like Finland.
I recall complaining to a driver in Bermuda about the poor weather we had had during our stay. His response was "you bring your weather with you." He was so right. I have never been able to fully adopt that saying; it's not because I have t tried -- and I keep trying.
Finland is officially the happiest country in the world (again), so what can we learn from their wellbeing culture?
For the sixth year in a row, Finland has been declared the happiest nation in the world. So how can we take a bit of that Finnish magic and apply it to our daily lives?
Every year, researchers in the US compile surveys by the Gallup Institute, measuring a variety of factors like GDP, social support, freedom to make choices, life expectancy and generosity, and asking a representative sample of people just how satisfied they feel with their lives.
The Finns are so proud of this national reputation that the country’s tourism board recently launched a ‘happiness masterclass’, inviting people from other nations to help boost their satisfaction by attending a four-day retreat in its Lakeland region. Here, guests will have the chance to enjoy spending time in forests and lakes, chill out to calming music and eat nourishing food, all while learning more about the Finnish way of life.
But what actually makes Finland such a happy nation, and can we borrow any of their secrets to boost our own wellbeing? Here are a handful of life lessons we can learn from the reigning champions of contentment…
SPENDING TIME IN NATURE
Finland is home to 40 national parks and boasts the largest lake district in Europe (hence the nickname ‘Land of a Thousand Lakes’), and spending time outside is a huge part of Finnish culture – a 2021 survey found that almost 90% of Finns consider nature to play an important part in their lives.
The right to roam freely in the countryside is even enshrined in a rule known as Everyman’s Right, which means that people can use nearly all forests and lakes for free, so walking, swimming, skiing and even camping are free in these public areas. The flip side of this rule is that everyone must treat these natural spaces with the respect they deserve, so that others can enjoy them for generations to come.
The mental health benefits of spending time in the natural world are well documented, with studies suggesting that exposure to nature can help diminish feelings of anxiety and stress, and even boost your self-esteem.
But wait – how are Finns getting out and about in nature when winter is the longest season and when temperatures can drop to minus -20ºC? That’s where the idea of Sisu comes into play. Like many Nordic lifestyle concepts, it’s hard to directly translate it into English, but it refers to a strength of will or persevering against the odds. That means heading out to brave the elements instead of waiting for the perfect sunny day or not being afraid to try a cold water swim. You can channel it by grabbing your cosiest coat and make the most of the drizzly spring weather right now.
Finland is one of the most trusting – and trustworthy – nations in the world. In 2022, a ‘dropped wallet’ study by Reader’s Digest tested people’s honesty by leaving 192 wallets in 16 cities across the globe, and in the Finnish capital of Helsinki, 11 out of the 12 dropped wallets were safely returned to the owner. Heartwarming, right? Naturally, we’re not suggesting that you try to recreate this by dropping your personal effects around your local city centre and seeing what comes back, but it’s certainly worth considering whether you’re automatically assuming the worst in your everyday interactions, and seeing the difference when you adopt a more open-minded attitude.
BE MORE OPEN ABOUT HOW YOU’RE REALLY FEELING
How many times have you automatically answered the question ‘How’re you doing?” with “Oh, fine thanks!” You probably do it without thinking, because you’re so used to presenting a positive face to the world. In Finnish culture, though, giving a genuinely honest answer to “How are you?” is not just acceptable, it’s totally normal. So if you’re having a bad day, channel your inner Finn and let people know – they will probably appreciate your honesty.
A much-quoted line from the Finnish poet Eino Leino is “Kell’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköö,” or “The one who has happiness should hide it.” In other words, press pause on that slightly gloaty Instagram post, and instead of showing off your good fortune, spend time actually enjoying it. And if you’re spending less time humblebragging about your own achievements, you’ll probably be less drawn into the toxic spiral of comparison culture. It’s a win-win.
AIM FOR CONTENTMENT
Another Finnish saying is “Onni ei tule etsien, vaan eläen”, which translates as “Happiness is not found by searching, but by living.” Happiness doesn’t always have to be a soaring sense of bliss; instead, there’s value in enjoying what you have and fostering a feeling of contentment, rather than chasing those dizzy highs. That’s not to say that you can’t aspire to big dreams or try to make improvements – just that you shouldn’t beat yourself up about striving for some elusive ideal.