Why Is Finland the Happiest Country on Earth? The Answer Is Complicated.

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The Bright Side is simply a bid astir however optimism works successful our minds and affects the satellite astir us.

On March 20, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network released its yearly World Happiness Report, which rates well-being successful countries astir the world. For the sixth twelvemonth successful a row, Finland was ranked astatine the precise top.

But Finns themselves accidental the ranking points to a much analyzable reality.

“I wouldn’t accidental that I see america precise happy,” said Nina Hansen, 58, a precocious schoolhouse English teacher from Kokkola, a midsize metropolis connected Finland’s westbound coast. “I’m a small suspicious of that word, actually.”

Ms. Hansen was 1 of much than a twelve Finns we spoke to — including a Zimbabwean immigrant, a people metallic violinist, a erstwhile Olympian and a retired dairy husbandman — astir what, supposedly, makes Finland truthful happy. Our subjects ranged successful property from 13 to 88 and represented a assortment of genders, intersexual orientations, taste backgrounds and professions. They came from Kokkola arsenic good arsenic the capital, Helsinki; Turku, a metropolis connected the southwestern coast; and 3 villages successful southern, eastbound and occidental Finland.

While radical praised Finland’s beardown societal information nett and spoke glowingly of the intelligence benefits of quality and the idiosyncratic joys of sports oregon music, they besides talked astir guilt, anxiousness and loneliness. Rather than “happy,” they were much apt to qualify Finns arsenic “quite gloomy,” “a small moody” oregon not fixed to unnecessary smiling.

Many besides shared concerns astir threats to their mode of life, including imaginable gains by a far-right party successful the country’s elections successful April, the war successful Ukraine and a tense narration with Russia, which could worsen present that Finland is acceptable to join NATO.

It turns retired adjacent the happiest radical successful the satellite aren’t that happy. But they are thing much similar content.

Finns deduce restitution from starring sustainable lives and comprehend fiscal occurrence arsenic being capable to place and conscionable basal needs, Arto O. Salonen, a prof astatine the University of Eastern Finland who has researched well-being successful Finnish society, explained. “In different words,” helium wrote successful an email, “when you cognize what is enough, you are happy.”


A antheral   and a pistillate   sitting astatine  a eating  array  successful  a dimly lit room. She wears a achromatic  overgarment   implicit    a pinkish  turtleneck and chunky achromatic  glasses and rests her manus  connected  a crockery  connected  the table. He wears a achromatic  overgarment   implicit    a tan sweater, has glasses and a grey  beard and rests his chin connected  his near  hand. Two shiny golden  lamps bent  supra  their heads.
Hertta Kiiski, a mixed-media artist, with her husband, Teemu Kiiski, the main enforcement of Finnish Design Shop. The mates said that nationalist backing for acquisition and the arts afforded Finns similar Ms. Kiiski creator freedom.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

“‘Happiness,’ sometimes it’s a airy connection and utilized similar it’s lone a grin connected a face,” Teemu Kiiski, the main enforcement of Finnish Design Shop, said. “But I deliberation that this Nordic happiness is thing much foundational.”

The precocious prime of beingness successful Finland is profoundly rooted successful the nation’s payment system, Mr. Kiiski, 47, who lives successful Turku, said. “It makes radical consciousness harmless and secure, to not beryllium near retired of society.”

Public backing for acquisition and the arts, including idiosyncratic creator grants, gives radical similar his wife, Hertta, a mixed-media artist, the state to prosecute their originative passions. “It besides affects the benignant of enactment that we make, due to the fact that we don’t person to deliberation of the commercialized worth of art,” Ms. Kiiski, 49, said. “So what a batch of the artists present marque is precise experimental.”


​​Jani Toivola, 45, who lives successful Helsinki with his hubby and daughter, became the archetypal Black subordinate of Finland’s Parliament successful 2011.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

As a Black idiosyncratic successful Finland — which is much than 90 percent achromatic — Jani Toivola, 45, spent overmuch of his beingness feeling isolated. “Too often, I think, you inactive feel, arsenic a Black cheery antheral successful Finland, that you are the lone idiosyncratic successful the room,” Mr. Toivola said. His father, who was Kenyan, was absent for overmuch of his life, and Mr. Toivola, whose parent is white, struggled to find Black relation models helium could subordinate to.

In 2011, helium became the first Black member of Finland’s Parliament, wherever helium helped pb the combat for the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

I take to beryllium optimistic, but determination is inactive a batch of enactment to beryllium done.

Jani Toivola

After serving 2 terms, Mr. Toivola near authorities to prosecute acting, dancing and writing. He present lives successful Helsinki with his hubby and girl and continues to advocator L.G.B.T.Q. rights successful Finland. “As a cheery man, I inactive deliberation it is simply a occurrence that I get to ticker my girl grow,” helium said.


Nina Hansen, a precocious schoolhouse English teacher, questioned the usage of the connection “happy” to encapsulate the Finnish mind-set.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

The accepted contented is that it’s easier to beryllium blessed successful a state similar Finland wherever the authorities ensures a unafraid instauration connected which to physique a fulfilling beingness and a promising future. But that anticipation tin besides make unit to unrecorded up to the nationalist reputation.

“We are precise privileged and we cognize our privilege,” said Clara Paasimaki, 19, 1 of Ms. Hansen’s students successful Kokkola, “so we are besides frightened to accidental that we are discontent with anything, due to the fact that we cognize that we person it truthful overmuch amended than different people,” particularly successful non-Nordic countries.

Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Being bittersweet oregon being not contented with our beingness would beryllium seen arsenic ungrateful.

Clara Paasimaki

Frank Martela, a science researcher astatine Aalto University, agreed with Ms. Paasimaki’s assessment. “The information that Finland has been ‘the happiest state connected earth’ for six years successful a enactment could commencement gathering unit connected people,” helium wrote successful an email. “If we Finns are each truthful happy, wherefore americium I not happy?”

He continued, “In that sense, dropping to beryllium the second-happiest state could beryllium bully for the semipermanent happiness of Finland.”

The Finnish mode of beingness is summed up successful “sisu,” a trait said to beryllium portion of the national character. The connection astir translates to “grim determination successful the look of hardships,” specified arsenic the country’s agelong winters: Even successful adversity, a Finn is expected to persevere, without complaining.

“Back successful the time erstwhile it wasn’t that casual to past the winter, radical had to struggle, and past it’s benignant of been passed on the generations,” said Ms. Paasimaki’s classmate Matias From, 18. “Our parents were this way. Our grandparents were this way. Tough and not worrying astir everything. Just surviving life.”


Julia Wilson-Hangasmaa, a 59-year-old who runs her ain recruitment and consulting agency, draws a favoritism betwixt the reliable restitution of Finns and the exuberant joyousness of radical successful her location state of Zimbabwe.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Since immigrating from Zimbabwe successful 1992, Julia Wilson-Hangasmaa, 59, has travel to admit the state Finland affords radical to prosecute their dreams without worrying astir gathering basal needs. A retired teacher, she present runs her ain recruitment and consulting bureau successful Vaaksy, a colony northeast of Helsinki.

But she has besides watched the emergence of anti-immigration sentiment, exacerbated by the 2015 migrant crisis, and worries astir the sustainability of the precocious prime of beingness successful Finland. “If we person attitudes that are ‘Finland is for Finns,’ who volition instrumentality attraction of america erstwhile we are elderly?” she said, referring to a communal right-wing slogan. “Who volition thrust the motortruck that delivers the nutrient to the supermarket truthful that you tin spell and shop?”

When she returns to her location country, she is struck by the “good energy” that comes not from the restitution of sisu but from exuberant joy.

“What I miss the most, I recognize erstwhile I participate Zimbabwe, are the smiles,” she said, among “those radical who don’t person much, compared to Western standards, but who are affluent successful spirit.”


Tuomo Puutio, a 74-year-old retired farmer, and his girl Marjukka, a 47-year-old orchestra manager. In Finland, “you get the accidental to beryllium a cello player, adjacent if you are a farmer’s daughter,” Ms. Puutio said.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Tuomo Puutio, 74, started moving astatine 15 and supported his household for decades arsenic a cattle and dairy farmer. Thanks to Finland’s schoolhouse system, which includes euphony acquisition for each children, his girl Marjukka, 47, was capable to prosecute her imagination of a euphony vocation beyond their village. “You get the accidental to beryllium a cello player, adjacent if you are a farmer’s daughter,” she said.

Music is simply a root of well-being for galore Finns, galore of whom sing successful choirs, larn instruments oregon be regular concerts, particularly during the country’s long, acheronian winters. But Ms. Puutio worries that these opportunities whitethorn not beryllium disposable to aboriginal generations: Finland volition clasp parliamentary elections connected April 2, and the far-right Finns Party, which won the second-highest fig of seats successful 2019, has promised to chopped backing for the arts if it secures a bulk conjugation this year.


Mr. Puutio with his grandson Johannes Puutio, Ms. Puutio’s son.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

“Music, which I americium passionate about, it creates a mind-set wherever you tin look your interior feelings and fears,” Ms. Puutio, who present manages an orchestra, said. “It touches parts of our psyche we could different not reach. And that volition person a semipermanent effect connected people’s lives, if these experiences are taken distant from us.”


Helina Marjamaa, astatine right, a erstwhile way jock who represented Finland astatine the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games, astatine her location successful Kokkola with her girl Mimmi.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Many of our subjects cited the abundance of quality arsenic important to Finnish happiness: Nearly 75 percent of Finland is covered by forest, and each of it is unfastened to everyone acknowledgment to a instrumentality known arsenic “jokamiehen oikeudet,” oregon “everyman’s right,” that entitles radical to roam freely passim immoderate earthy areas, connected nationalist oregon privately owned land.

“I bask the bid and question successful nature,” said Helina Marjamaa, 66, a erstwhile way jock who represented the state astatine the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Games. “That’s wherever I get strength. Birds are singing, snowfall is melting, and quality is coming to life. It’s conscionable incredibly beautiful.”


Helina’s girl Mimmi, 36, is simply a creation teacher and certified enactment therapist. As a subordinate of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, she said, she is encouraged by the openness she sees successful members of the adjacent generation.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Her girl Mimmi, a creation teacher and certified enactment therapist, precocious got engaged to her girlfriend. Mimmi, 36, said she is encouraged by the openness and deeper knowing of sex and sexuality she sees successful the adjacent generation.

“A batch of teenagers already amusement themselves arsenic they are,” she said. As adults, “we request to promote that.”


Tuomas Rounakari, a composer, is inspired by his situation and worries astir however anti-climate policies would impact the country.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Finland’s earthy treasures, astir one-third of which prevarication supra the Arctic Circle, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the clime crisis. Like Ms. Puutio, Tuomas Rounakari, 46, a composer champion known successful Finland arsenic a erstwhile subordinate of the people metallic set Korpiklaani, is acrophobic astir the rising popularity of groups similar the Finns Party and the anti-climate policies they’ve championed.

Global capitalism is inactive starring the game. To me, each of this is alarming.

Tuomas Rounakari

“I americium disquieted with this level of ignorance we person toward our ain environment,” helium said, citing endangered taxon and clime change. The threat, helium said, “still doesn’t look to displacement the governmental thinking.”


Badminton has taught Niklas Hukari, 13, that perseverance tin bring satisfaction.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Reasons for optimism tin beryllium personal. For the Hukari family, that crushed is badminton.

A sports installation successful the agrarian assemblage of Toholampi has enabled Henna, 16, and Niklas, 13, to vie astatine a European level, exposing them to caller places and players from astir the continent. The crippled has fixed the teens a fulfilling hobby successful a distant country and their parents, Lasse and Marika, optimism astir their children’s futures.


Lasse Hukari and his daughter, Henna Hukari. Henna, 16, had conscionable received her learner’s licence for driving.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Mr. Hukari, 49, hopes that, successful time, the children volition travel to afloat grasp the opportunities they person gained from badminton. “Now, possibly they don’t recognize what they have, but erstwhile they are my age, past I cognize they volition understand,” helium said.


Eeva Valtonen with her granddaughter Ruut Eerikainen. Ms. Eerikainen was amazed to spot Finland fertile arsenic the happiest nation. “We tin beryllium rather gloomy successful a way,” she said.Credit...Jake Michaels for The New York Times

Born 17 years aft Finland won independency from Russia, Eeva Valtonen has watched her homeland transform: from the devastation of World War II done years of rebuilding to a federation held up arsenic an exemplar to the world.

“My parent utilized to say, ‘Remember, the blessing successful beingness is successful work, and each enactment you do, bash it well,’” Ms. Valtonen, 88, said. “I deliberation Finnish radical person been precise overmuch the aforesaid way. Everybody did everything unneurotic and helped each other.”

Her granddaughter Ruut Eerikainen, 29, was amazed to spot Finland present ranked arsenic the happiest spot connected earth. “To beryllium honest, Finns don’t look that happy,” she said. “It’s truly acheronian outside, and we tin beryllium rather gloomy.”

Maybe it isn’t that Finns are truthful overmuch happier than everyone else. Maybe it’s that their expectations for contentment are much reasonable, and if they aren’t met, successful the tone of sisu, they persevere.

“We don’t whine,” Ms. Eerikainen said. “We conscionable do.”

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