Finland is consistently ranked the happiest country on earth. For Finns, it’s an eye-roller.

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From Insider:

When I asked Frank Martela what makes him happy, he held out his phone and showed me a photo of a row of brightly colored children’s bikes.

“I was taking my youngest kid to preschool when I saw all these tiny bicycles — hundreds of them parked outside,” he said. 

Some of the kids, who are as young as 7, travel to and from school by themselves and go out to play alone too.

Martela, a philosopher and researcher at Aalto University in Espoo, 12 miles from Finland’s capital Helsinki, treasures the freedom his three children have there.

“Young children can move on their own,” he said. “It’s something that Finnish people might not think about if they’ve never been outside the country. They just take it for granted.”

Finland’s high levels of social trust could be one reason the country has been ranked as the world’s happiest for six years in a row. As the World Happiness Report, which does the ranking, notes, most Finns expect their wallet to be returned to them if they lose it.

“In Helsinki it is completely normal to leave the baby outside, obviously with a baby monitor and if possible by the window, so you can see the stroller while shopping or having coffee,” said Jennifer De Paola, a social psychologist and an expert on Finnish happiness who moved to Finland when she was 25. 

. . . .

The country is also known for its focus on work-life balance. That point is underscored when I go to meet Heli Jimenez, of Visit Finland, at a Helsinki office block shortly after 5 p.m. Apart from us, the place is almost completely empty as workers have left for the day. 

Jimenez told me that Finns are surprised that people in other countries don’t have “simple skills,” like how to build a fire out in nature. 

So Finns have liberated children, trust their neighbors, commune with nature, and leave work on time.

. . . .

“We’re always surprised that we are still the first,” Meri Larivaara, a mental health advocate, told me in yet another Helsinki coffee shop. “Every year there is a debate like ‘How is this possible?'”

In fact, locals I spoke to were exasperated by the survey and even annoyed by global perception of them as happy. Mentions of the report prompts eye-rolls and sighs.

“We don’t agree with it, it’s just not real for us,” an interior designer told me, without giving me a name.

A better word to describe Finns would be “content,” Jimenez said. “Because we are satisfied with our lives.”

. . . .

“The question that they asked the participants is how satisfied you are with your life at the moment. So there is no mention of happiness,” said De Paola.

“Happiness has more to do with emotions and the way the emotions are communicated,” she said, pointing to research in which she had studied word associations on social media. “So smiling, being cheerful, being joyful, are more linked to happiness than the concept of life satisfaction.

“It’s just sexier to call it the World Happiness Report rather than calling it the life satisfaction report.”

Finns don’t view themselves as exceptionally happy people. In fact, the country can be quite pessimistic.

Finnish people are “not so good at creating an atmosphere of optimism,” said Meri Larivaara, a mental health advocate. But she’s quick to add that pessimism and contentment can exist simultaneously. 

. . . .

Yes, the climate is punishing. The country’s winters are cold and abnormally dark, especially in the north, where there is almost continual darkness in the winter. 

But it’s also true that Finns are very content with what they have. 

“They call us up and just ask if we like our lives. We just say there’s nothing wrong right now, maybe call back tomorrow,” one local said of the survey. 

. . . .

As in many countries, Finland has seen a rise in mental health problems in adolescents during the pandemic. In the spring of 2021, satisfaction with life had decreased among teenagers, while anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness increased in comparison to 2019, according to a study in the journal Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health, which cited Finnish research, in April.

Overall, mental health complaints from Finnish adolescents had been increasing in the last two decades, per the report.

Finland also has an aging population. According to the Population Reference Bureau, 21.9% of Finland’s population is 65 and over. The country has the third largest percentage of older people in the world, coming in just behind Japan and Italy.

Link to the rest at Insider

One of PG’s long-standing friends is Finnish, although he has lived in the United States since he was in his mid-20s. PG’s friend has acquainted PG with some of the facts of life involved in living in his native land.

One fact that was not mentioned in the OP is that Finland has an 800 plus mile border with Russia and the Russians and Finns have had more than a few wars in years past.

At the outset of World War II, Russia invaded Finland, which was neutral at the time. This resulted in the so-called “Winter War,” which was fought under some of the most difficult weather conditions imaginable. Although the Finns made the Russian army pay a high toll in casualties before a rough peace was restored, Russia still occupies significant amounts of territory that were formerly part of Finland where the predominant language is still Finnish. PG’s friend has delivered humanitarian supplies to some of his extended family still living under Russian rule and says, “The people have no hope there.”

With a population of 5.5 million people, Finland would have a difficult job of defeating a substantial Russian military attack on the country. Hence, it’s recent decision to join NATO after a long period of neutrality out of concern that such a move would possibly provoke a Russian military response.

Another consequence of living in the same neighborhood with Russia is that all Finnish males are obligated to serve in the military.

The duty of Finns to defend their country is in the Finnish Constitution, Chapter 12, Section 127, which begins with “Every Finnish citizen is obligated to participate or assist in national defence.” Finland’s mandatory military service law, also known as the Conscription Act, fleshes this out: “Every male Finnish citizen is liable for military service starting from the beginning of the year in which he turns 18 years old until the end of the year in which he turns 60, unless otherwise provided for herein.”

Failure to report for military service results in a jail sentence without the possibility of parole for up to 174 days.

A significant number of females also choose to serve in the Finnish military.

3 thoughts on “Finland is consistently ranked the happiest country on earth. For Finns, it’s an eye-roller.”

  1. I agree with the locals: before getting too excited about their society (and the rest of Scandinavia, for that matter) it’s worth putting it in context. As in:

    “Finland has a population of over 5.53 million people and an average population density of 19 inhabitants per square kilometre. This makes it the third most sparsely populated country in Europe, after Iceland and Norway. The population is concentrated on the small southwestern coastal plain. The largest city, Helsinski , has a population of 600k. Which drops to 300k by the next door Espoo and under 90K by the tenth.

    “Most of the population is ethnic Finnish. There are about 4,500 Sami left in Finland who are officially recognized as a minority. Demographic change in Finland has been rapid in recent decades. The Nordic country has one of the world’s fastest aging populations, and the lengthened life expectancy continues to increase the size of the elderly population for the future.”

    Their population pyramid is a narrowing stovepipe, nowhere as bad as Italy, Spain, Portugal or (brr) China, but at 1.46 children per woman, not great:

    A rate of around 2.1% is required for a stable population base.

    Their aggregate unemployment rate is around 7% but in 2021 *youth unemployment* was 17%, a 4.3% *improvement* of the longterm average of 21.3%.

    Given their monoculture and 86% urbanization rate I can see their point: contentment is a better adjective than outright “happiness”. They’ve been living their own High Years but one way or another they are headed for big changes, like everybody else on the mudball.

    A sign of things to come: all of Scandinavia just signed up to form a unified Nordic Air Force combining the forces of Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark to operate as a single command of 250 fighter jets.

    As globalization phases out they will likely be drawn into tighter alliance in other aspects.

    They should do okay as they downsize their economies in the years to come but it’s worth remembering the four add up to 26 M or roughly the equivalent of the NYC metro area but with way less divisiveness. 🙂

      • All available evidence favors homogeneity.

        Harsh but true.
        Whether natural, consensus driven, or enforced at gun point, societies are most *effective* when everybody works off the same playbook, regardless of ideology.

        The nordics are well served by their monoculture. Departing from it, in the case of Sweden for example, did not go well. They opened the door to immigrants as Merkle urged and discovered that instead of expanding their society they had imported an underclass with its own values and practices and zero interest in integrating. Much as France discovered with their Banlieues and the UK with Londonistan.

        You’d think europeans would have internalized that immigration without integration is colonization. And with the imbalance in fertility rates between natives and newcomers their challenges are just starting. The future will not be kind.

        Fortunately for them, the other nordics–along with the baltics and eastern european states–have resisted transplants all along. The latter are instead population donors rather than importers. An economic problem all its own, but it spares them a culture war. Which is why Hungary, for one, tolerates Orban. And Türkiye Erdogan. For all their (many) failings, they are seen as defenders of the tribe against external forces.

        The extent to which homogeneus cultures can accomodate variants varies according to the nature of the “host” country. The US, Canada, and Australia were never homogeneous and never had a dominant nativist tribal culture. Immigrant societies have historically accomodated newcomers reasonably well *over generations* though not immediately or gracefully. Melting pot or salad, the pre-existing values tended to dominate, accomodating newcomers slightly and slowly.

        In most of the world, though, nativist tribalism rules.
        Few countries actually welcome newcomers or even internal minorities. Homo sapiens is a tribal creature by nature and pretending otherwise is futile. Whether Africa, South America, or worst of all, Asia, tribalist autocracy rules. “My way is the only way.”

        And that tribal absolutism has made its way to the US with certain immigrant politicians dead set in applying in the US the exact same attitudes and policies that turned their homelands into failed states. We can all name the exemplars of that squad, right?

        Basically societies accomodate variants to the extent they are willing to sacrifice the strength of the mainstream culture. Trying to force overnight what is at best a generational process only hardens resistance and, historically, has resulted in a reassertion of the baseline. Early 20th US elitism brought both Prohibition and and end to unregulated immigration, the great depression and, while interrupted by WWII, the Post war orthodoxy. Similarly the counter culture of the 60’s led to the 70’s economic crash and in reaction Reaganism. Canada has long relied on massive immigration to balance out their fractured economy and demographics issues but they are starting to tighten their policies in the face of their own bicostal culture war and unexpected economic consequences.

        The US is big enough and strong enough to tolerate a larger role for variants than, say Japan or Mexico, but lost in all the ongoing culture wars, the mainstream is still demographically dominant and the majority of immigrants, both legal and uninvited, prefer it to the alternative. Recent polls are all pointing in the same direction: absolutism is breeding its own enemies.

        As expected.

        The alternative to cultural cohesion is fragmentation as we might soon see in Russia if the failure in Ukraine becomes total. In which case Finland might recover its long lost territories and population and like Germany face a whole challenge to integrate their cousins.

        Interesting times ahead, even for the “happiest” country.

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