In March, Finland was crowned the “Happiest Country in the World” for the FIFTH time in a row by the UN’s World Happiness Report (WHR). And actually, this year marks the tenth year of the WHP, meaning that half of the time that this report has existed, Finland has been number one. I like to joke that Finland has been granted this title for every year that I have lived here, so ole hyvä, Suomi.
Joking aside, every year that Finland has been named the happiest country, no one seems to be more confused by this than Finns themselves. And I wanted to share why I think this is and what my own thoughts are on Finland’s happiness ranking.
Finland has a reputation around the globe for its darkness and coldness. There are actually people who think Finland doesn’t ever have nice weather and that it’s always winter. The winters are long and cold, for sure, and it tends to create a perfect atmosphere for depression, drug and alcohol abuse, and even suicide; fueling the Finnish metal scene—another thing Finland is well-known for around the world. I think these issues are often what comes to mind when people question Finland being such a happy country. Nevertheless, relative to the other countries being equated, Finland on its worst day may still be a paradise compared to others.
Indeed, there was a time in the past where Finland ranked very high in suicide rates, but in recent years, the suicide rate has declined and although Finland’s current suicide number is ~850 per year (which is 850 too many), it has nearly been cut in half from what it was in 1990 (~1500 per year). For alcohol and drugs, Finland ranks in the top 20 for alcoholism, and drug problems are on the rise, especially in the younger demographics. As for depression, Finland ranks 9th, so it’s something that is clearly still a problem in this country.
Now, let’s consider the report and how they determine their rankings. The data is gathered via the Gallup World Poll, using a sample size of two to three thousand people from each country sourced, and focusing mainly on the following six factors: levels of gross national product (GDP), life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom, and corruption.
Looking at world rankings by country, Finland ranks 15th for GDP, 25th for life expectancy, 25th in generosity, 3rd in social support, 7th in freedom, and somewhere in the top three of least corrupt countries (depending on which index you look at). With those numbers, it may seem like a wonder as to how Finland could come out on top, but we must remember, it’s a game of averages. When everything is averaged out, Finland turns out to be a great place to live where the most people per capita are found to be happy or at least have the best opportunities to become happy. Of course, happy is a relative term.
Let’s go back to drugs and depression for a moment. In Finland, drug addiction is treated like an illness more than a crime. Prisons offer treatment, rehabilitation, and control of drug use to drug-addicted inmates. And for depression and other mental health disorders, there is an abundance of treatment available to all legal residents, often completely free of charge. This is part of that social support that Finland ranks 3rd in the world for and that I myself have benefitted from it extensively.
Last year, I was out of work for ~four months due to severe depression. I was met with compassion and understanding from my employer and all the doctors and nurses whom I met with throughout my [still on-going] treatment, which has cost me next to nothing. If this had happened in the States, I likely wouldn’t have gotten anywhere close to the amount of leave, probably wouldn’t have been able to keep my job, and certainly wouldn’t have gotten my treatments free-of-charge or even inexpensively. That alone is something to be grateful for as a Finnish resident.
Having talked to many of my Finnish friends, I think it’s easy to take for granted what Finland has to offer. It’s truly a beautiful place with exceptional nature, clean, fresh air, freedom and access to almost all information, free/inexpensive healthcare and education, a generous and honest population, and a humble spirit that struggles to accept victories like being considered the happiest country in the world.
I’ve spent most of my life living in the U.S., which was ranked 16th by the WHP. And when I compare how happy I have felt these past several years in Finland to how I felt when I still lived in the States, I don’t hesitate to agree that Finland is one happy place to live. I did say that happy is a relative term, but it’s as good a word as any to describe myself living here.
Matthew Bowen is an American living in Pori, Finland with his wife, Sanni, their son, Edvin, and their dog, Pipo. You can follow their journey on Matthew’s Facebook blog, My Life in Finland www.facebook.com/MattinFinland/ or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org