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What the world can learn from the Happiest Country on Earth

For five years in a row, Finland has been ranked as the happiest country in the world according to the World Happiness Report. This report asks people in 156 countries to rate their lives on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being the worst possible life and 10 being the best. In addition to this subjective measure, the report also takes into account factors such as social support, life expectancy, generosity, and the absence of corruption.

As a Finnish philosopher and psychology researcher who studies happiness, Frank Martela is often asked what it is that makes people in Finland so content with their lives. Martela is also the author of the book "A Wonderful Life: Insights on Finding a Meaningful Existence," in which he explores the factors that bring significance to our lives and why we often feel a continual yearning for something more.

Here are three things that we Finns don't do, which contribute to our high quality of life according to Martela:

  1. We don't compare ourselves to our neighbors. There is a famous Finnish saying, "Kell' onni on, se onnen kätkeköön," which roughly translates to "Don't compare or brag about your happiness." Finns really take this to heart, especially when it comes to material possessions and displays of wealth. It is not uncommon to see successful people in Finland using public transportation or living in modest homes. This focus on humility and downplaying one's success allows people to set their own standards for happiness, rather than comparing themselves to others.

  2. We don't overlook the benefits of nature. A 2021 survey found that 87% of Finns feel that nature is important to them because it provides them with peace of mind, energy, and relaxation. Finns are entitled to four weeks of summer holiday, which many people use to spend time in the countryside, immersing themselves in nature. In addition, many Finnish cities are densely built, meaning that people have easy access to nature in their daily lives. The proximity of nature and the emphasis on spending time in it can contribute to a sense of well-being and personal growth.

  3. We don't break the community circle of trust. Research has shown that countries with higher levels of trust tend to have happier citizens. In a "lost wallet" experiment conducted in 2022, Helsinki ranked first in terms of honesty, with 11 out of 12 lost wallets being returned to their owners. Finns tend to trust each other and value honesty, which creates a sense of community and security. This trust extends to children, who are often able to take public buses home from school and play outside without supervision.

In his book "A Wonderful Life," Martela delves deeper into the idea of finding meaning and purpose in life, using insights from history, philosophy, and psychology. He tackles questions such as "Is happiness a worthy goal?" and "What is the foundation for meaning in a secular society?" and offers practical tips for how we can each find more meaning in our lives. The book has received praise from authors such as Daniel H. Pink and Emily Esfahani Smith and has been translated into 18 different languages.

In conclusion, there are many factors that contribute to Finland's high ranking as the happiest country in the world. By not comparing ourselves to others, valuing nature, and maintaining a strong sense of community trust, Finns are able to lead fulfilling and content lives. Martela's book "A Wonderful Life" offers further insight into the pursuit of a meaningful existence and provides practical tips for how we can each find more purpose in our lives.


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