Do you like where you live? Not so much your individual abode but the city, the country. Are you close with those you live near? Do you have a feeling of community and connection? On an even grander scale, what is it about your country that you love? What do you not love? What could be done to make life better?
These thoughts tend to pop up when the yearly World Happiness Report rolls in, ranking the nations of the world on the happiness of its people. With the winner setting an example for the rest of the world, not only should other nations follow what they do but also avoid what they don't do.
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The UN-sponsored World Happiness Report for 2022 is out once more, ranking the collective happiness of citizens in countries across the globe.
The United States rose three places to 16th place, with Canada one step above at 15th and the United Kingdom one below at 17th. Australia and New Zealand rank 12th and 10th, respectively, but the number one spot has been awarded to Finland.
This is the fifth year in a row that Finland has won the title of the happiest country in the world.
What's Their Secret?
Finnish philosopher and psychology researcher Frank Martela studies what he called the 'fundamentals of happiness.' He's seen what goes into keeping Finland the happiest country in the world, including elements that promote camaraderie and community.
He's also noticed some things that people in Finland don't do that appear to be common practice in many other nations. He believes these absent behaviors play a role in the happiness of Finnish people.
These traits can be practiced on a small scale, which means inviting them into your life could help you feel the same everyday peace as those from Finland.
1. Not Comparing Yourself To Others
That's right, the first step in all this is a relatively simple one that we're all first taught as children: don't compare yourself to others.
In his explanation, Martela writes, "There's a famous line by a Finnish poet: 'Kell' onni on, se onnen kätkeköön.' Roughly translated, it means: Don’t compare or brag about your happiness."
He then says that the Finnish take the line, and this advice, to heart, especially when it comes to the flaunting of wealth and material objects.
Privacy In Wealth
Martela then told a story, writing, "I once ran into one of the wealthiest men in Finland. He was pushing his toddler in a stroller towards the tram station. He could have bought himself an expensive car or hired a driver, but he opted for public transportation.
That's what success looks like in Finland: just like everyone else."
As a tip to introduce this mindset into your everyday life, Martela advises focusing on the things that make you happy rather than putting all your effort into appearing successful. You should be setting standards for yourself, not basing your existence on the judgment and standards of others.
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2. Don't Overlook The Benefits Of Nature
A 2021 survey found that 87% of Finnish people feel that nature is important to them. They say spending time in nature is an abundant source of energy, relaxation, and peace of mind.
Finnish people get four weeks of summer holiday every year (another factor that undoubtedly plays into their high happiness levels). Martela noticed that many people use that vacation to travel away from the cities and rest in the countryside, giving themself time to bask in the beautiful natural landscapes Finland contains.
"The fewer amenities, even to the point of no electricity or running water in the house, the better," he wrote.
A Breath Of Fresh Air
Nature is also part of their architecture. Martela notes how many Finnish cities are very densely built, "[...] which means that many people have access to nature at their doorsteps. I live next to Helsinki Central Park, where I go on regular walks."
To take advantage of this insight, it's rather simple: get out in nature more! Martela cites studies that prove that spending time in nature increases our vitality, well-being, and provides us with a sense of personal growth. If, for some reason, venturing outside more often isn't feasible for you, then try bringing some greenery into your home instead!
3. Don't Break The Community Circle Of Trust
Martela explains that people in Finland really value community trust and as such, are very honest people.
In 2022, a 'lost wallet' experiment was conducted in 16 cities worldwide. This experiment consisted of a fake wallet being dropped on the ground in public, after which researchers recorded those who found it, noting if they returned it to its owner or silently kept it.
In Helsinki, 11 of the 12 wallets dropped were returned to their owner. This made them the most honest city in the entire study.
Safe And Sound
"Finnish people tend to trust each other and value honesty. If you forget your laptop in a library or lost your phone on the train, you can be quite confident you'll get it back," Martela writes, "Kids also often take a public bus home from school and play outside without supervision."
To create this sense of trust, Martela asks what you can do to show up for your community. What sorts of behaviors and habits can you introduce? How can you continue to build upon that trust among your neighbors and peers? He also advises to not discount small acts like holding open doors for people, as even the smallest of gestures can have profound positive impact and encourage that same politeness elsewhere.
The Measurements Of Happiness
As mentioned, Finland has been ranked the happiest country on Earth for five years, which means they must be doing things right.
The survey is compiled by not only citizens' self-reporting of how happy they are where they live but also includes country-wide factors such as economic and social data. This year, researchers also included data from social media, comparing feelings from before and after the COVID-19 pandemic. In 18 countries, they found "strong increases in anxiety and sadness" but decreased feelings of anger.
Funnily enough, the Finns don't register themselves as being that happy.
No Need To Boast
As a people, they're very averse to publically displaying emotions like happiness and excitement. That earlier point regarding not bragging about one's happiness really is a country-wide sentiment.
They recognize that they have incredible systems in place that help people live with less worry, such as free post-secondary education, social systems that assure everyone has access to basic needs, and even free lodgings maintained by the Finnish parks for those traveling out in nature, but it doesn't translate to an outwardly cheery public. They're perhaps too humble for their own good.
As Finnish citizen Jukka Viitasaari told The Guardian, "Someone from outside needed to tell us that we had it good compared to lots of other places, but after five years of coming top [of the rankings], we're getting used to it!”
What Have We Learned From This Study?
Now that the World Happiness Report has been running for ten years, with Finland on top for half of them, there's certainly something to be learned from all the data collected.
One of the report's co-authors, Jeffery Sachs, believes so too. "The lesson of the world happiness report over the years is that social support, generosity to one another and honesty in government are crucial for wellbeing," he wrote, "World leaders should take heed.”
We all have a part to play in the happiness of those around us, from friends to neighbors. Though it's up to world leaders to change the infrastructure for the better, we can still help make our countries a better place by practicing the elements listed here. It all boils down to being kind—not just to your community, but to yourself.
After all, how are we meant to help others if we can't cultivate our own happiness alongside them?