Finland Is The Happiest Country In The World—Here's What They Do Differently

Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for six years running. So what are they doing differently to improve their people’s well-being?

By Olivia Flint3 min read
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Shutterstock/Natalia Bostan

Finland – home to the Northern Lights, Lapland, and Santa Claus – has been named the happiest country in the world once again. For comparison, the US was 16th on the list. So what’s the deal? Finland calls itself the “land of the midnight sun” because of its nightless days during the summer – could the extra vitamin D be a contributing factor to the population’s higher rate of happiness? Maybe!

The happiness of nations was assessed by the World Happiness Report, which uses six factors: GDP, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity, and absence of corruption. With Finland securing the top spot, it's worth breaking down what exactly they're doing differently. Let's take a look.

1. Beautiful Landscapes

Finland boasts acre upon acre of pristine forest. Its crystal clear lakes and stunning landscapes are unspoiled, creating an ideal place to escape the stresses of everyday life. This, combined with Finland’s low pollution levels and clean air, is what many people believe makes Finland such a great place to live. 

Getting out into nature and leaving the computer screen is proven to help us feel happier - in fact, according to a 2021 survey, 87% of Finns believe nature is important to them because it provides peace of mind, energy, and relaxation. And getting out in nature is a priority for Finns, who possess “a hardy, active, outdoors-in-any-weather, do-it-yourself approach to life,” according to journalist Katja Pantzar.

In her book, The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu, Pantzar writes, “Shopping or discussing material acquisitions rarely form the answer to the question ‘How was your weekend?’ or ‘What did you do?’ Instead, the most common responses include outdoor or nature-based activities, regardless of the weather or season. To say you have been in the woods picking berries and/or mushrooms; fishing at the cottage; swimming at the lake; skiing; or on a minibreak in Stockholm, Tallinn, London, or Berlin is a common reply.”

She continues, “I also observe the very strong connection with nature that people in the Nordics have. It seems that almost everyone I meet is culturally programmed to spend time in nature year-round, particularly in summer and winter, to rest, restore, and recharge, whether at the family cottage or someone else’s.”

Alongside this, Finns are entitled to four weeks of summer holiday a year, enabling them to spend more time outdoors.

2. Laid-Back Lifestyle

Compared to most of the Western world, Finns are more laid-back. Their free, relaxed way of life puts an emphasis on cooperation instead of competition. Unlike other countries, Finns focus on themselves, not the outside world. In turn, this has created an admirable resilience to everyday challenges, ensuring any problems they face don’t drag them down. 

For the modern American, a trip to the spa is a rare treat, but for Finns, it’s a regular occurrence. If you want to chat with a friend in America, maybe you’ll head to a coffee shop. In Finland, locals will go to their nearest sauna to chat with friends and family. In fact, there are more saunas than cars in Finland

Sauna is a significant part of Finnish culture. Pantzar writes, “In ancient times, the sauna was a revered, pure place. Women gave birth there, since the heat made it one of the most sterile places to deliver a baby in those days.” Finnish sauna bathing has a variety of benefits that have been shown to improve pain, cardiovascular health, mental health, sleep, inflammation, and immunity – all contributing to a greater sense of health and happiness.

Another interesting aspect of sauna culture is how it is, what Pantzar calls, “a great equalizer.” Growing up visiting the sauna, the Finns “also grow up with the knowledge that bodies come in all sizes and shapes.” Additionally, there is no hierarchy in the sauna; it doesn’t matter what your social or economic rank is. She quotes a popular Finnish proverb: “All men are created equal, but nowhere more equal than in a sauna.”

3. Low Crime Levels and Corruption

A sense of safety and security is vital to the happiness of a population, which is why a key question in the World Happiness Report is how safe people feel. As Finland has very low crime rates, people reported feeling safe and secure – and happier as a result. 

Most reported crimes in Finland are traffic and property offenses. And in the last couple of years, less than 5% of the population has reported instances of violent crime. Plus, a “lost wallet” experiment in 2022 tested the honesty of citizens. In the experiment, 192 wallets were dropped in 16 cities around the world. In Helsinki, Finland, 11 out of the 12 dropped wallets were returned to the owner. 

Finnish people trust their community and are an honest population which once again improves overall happiness.

4. High Standard of Living and Education

In Finland, they have a very large middle class and very little poverty. They focus on equality, ensuring everyone is provided with opportunities, no matter their socioeconomic background. Finland has one of the fairest school systems in Europe and produces leading results. Here are a few ways the Finnish schooling system differs from American schools:

  • Finns start school at an older age (7 years old)

  • No standardized tests (except for the National Matriculation Exam) as all children are graded on an individualized basis and grading system set by their teacher

  • All teachers must have a master’s degree before entering the profession

  • The school day starts later, usually between 9 a.m. and 9:45 a.m.

5. Homogeneous Population

Finland is a relatively ethnically homogeneous country. The dominant ethnicity is Finnish, but there are also minorities of Finland-Swedes, Sami, and Roma people. However, the homogeneity of Finland is an often overlooked aspect as to why it is one of the happiest countries in the world. 

There are many advantages to a homogeneous country, such as the population already being in general agreement about moral and social values. This is because each country has its own culture, and therefore its own beliefs over things like what is a crime, initiations into adulthood, and how much power the state should have. When different cultures start to mix, these variations of moral and social values may start to clash and cause upset within the populace. 

Closing Thoughts

Lower crime, better health, and more vacations – it all seems pretty great in Finland! Moving there may not be an option, but there are plenty of takeaways you can implement into your life to improve happiness and well-being. 

You could find a gym with a sauna and schedule daily or weekly time in the spa. Choose to spend a weekend away in nature and away from the stresses of city life. Focus on yourself and your own world rather than comparing yourself to others and competing – just like the Finns do!

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