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.fa­ce­­tin­Fin­land/ or con­tact him at my­li­fein­fin­land@ya­