Each year, Monday 20th March sees the celebration of International Day of Happiness. Established by the UN General Assembly in 2012, it’s a day dedicated to recognising the importance of happiness and promoting it as a universal goal.
It also coincides with the release of the World Happiness Report, which ranks the happiness levels of 149 countries based on factors like GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, and freedom to make life choices.
This year, the UK slid into the top 20 in 19th place. Finland took the top spot as happiest country for the 6th year in a row. They're clearly doing something right!
In addition to having the right systems and culture in place to provide economic stability, social support, high standards of living, a strong education system and strong work life balance, there are other lessons we can learn from their way of life.
Here are some things we can learn from Finland about happiness:
Spend more time in nature
With 40 national parks and the largest lake district in Europe, 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 benefits of spending time in nature are well known and they have enshrined the right to roam freely in the countryside in a rule known as Everyman’s Right, allowing people to use nearly all forests and lakes for free.
But Finland has long winters where temperatures can drop to -20ºC, I hear you say, how does that work?!
The Finns have a term called ‘Sisu’ which doesn’t translate directly but 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. Brr.
The more fragmented, socially isolated world we currently live in is a relatively recent phenomenon. Throughout history, we lived in communities with collective responsibility to support others in order to stay alive.
Finland has retained some of this idea and is one of the most trusting – and trustworthy – nations in the world.
In 2022, a ‘dropped wallet’ study tested people’s honesty by leaving 192 wallets in 16 cities across the globe. In Helsinki, 11 of 12 dropped wallets were safely returned to the owner.
Be more open about how you’re really feeling
This is an interesting one! How many times have you automatically answered the question ‘How are you doing?” with “Fine thanks!” It’s an automatic response.
In Finnish culture, giving a genuinely honest answer to “How are you?” is not only acceptable but completely normal.
While I think there can be a time and place for this, in the right situations sharing how you really feel can encourage a greater sense of vulnerability and connection with others too.
Aim for contentment
There's a Finnish saying, “Onni ei tule etsien, vaan eläen”, which translates as “Happiness is not found by searching, but by living.”
In other words, don't just wait for the big achievements to be happy, foster a feeling of contentment around what you already have as well as celebrating the bigger wins.