The happiest place on Earth isn't Disneyland. It's Finland. For the sixth year in a row, Finland was named the happiest country in the world, according to the 2023 World Happiness Report.
The results come from a Gallup World Poll that asks 1,000 people in 137 countries to rank their feelings about their life. On the life satisfaction scale, Finnish people feel better than anyone else.
They don't mind the seven months of winter, the 65 percent tax rate or the few hours of sunlight they get daily.
It could be all the hiking, biking, fishing, sailing or skiing they do. Which they can do anywhere (even if it's private land) as long as they respect where they are.
It could be all their saunas. There are 3.3 saunas in a country of 5.5 million, and most Finns enjoy a sauna at least once a week. The physical and mental benefits go beyond just sweating to cleanse the body and mind. The sauna brings a sense of inner peace and is considered a sacred space, a "church of nature."
Maybe it's the free healthcare and education. All those taxes pay for a universal healthcare system and free school for everyone through college.
It could be the national pension system available to everyone, whether you pay into it or not. The housing-first policy, which gives everyone a place to live before they find a job, probably doesn't hurt either.
Since Finland introduced its housing-first policy in 2008, the number of people affected by homelessness has decreased, and the current government plans to end homelessness by 2027. That's right. End homelessness by providing affordable social housing and support services for homeless people. With money coming from the state, via low-interest loans that get paid back. They have found that providing housing for people is more cost-effective for society than keeping them homeless. Imagine that.
It could be the trust. Finns trust each other. They are not big on lying. And more than 80 percent of the population trusts the police, which are trained to use the least amount of force necessary when confronting a suspect. In 2016, the entire Finnish police force fired six bullets. In 2018, one person was killed by police They look for reasons not to shoot anybody. That's an oversimplification, but they do everything they can not to use deadly force.
That doesn't mean they don't have crime. They do. They have conventional prisons too. But Finland also has some prisons that are open with no gates. Prisoners have their own keys and can come and go as they please. They can go shopping for groceries at a market with the public. They can go for a walk in the community. They have therapy horses and can leave prison every day. They just have to return each night, and they do.
These open prisons are the last stop before prisoners are released on parole back into the world. The idea is that giving prisoners some autonomy, along with work and study opportunities, will help them better adjust to life outside of prison. This rehabilitative approach has proved to work. Inmates from open prisons are less likely to re-offend.
It's amazing what can happen when you help people, remove corruption, and give them an income, social support, health services, and freedom to make their own choices.
Being the happiest place in the world doesn't mean Finns are always happy. What it really comes down to is sisu, a mystical, almost magical Finnish idea. According to Finlandia University:
Sisu is a unique Finnish concept. It is a Finnish term that can be roughly translated into English as strength of will, determination, perseverance, and acting rationally in the face of adversity. Sisu is not momentary courage, but the ability to sustain that courage. It is a word that cannot be fully translated. It defines the Finnish people and their character. It stands for the philosophy that what must be done will be done, regardless of cost. Sisu is an inherent characteristic of the Finnish people. You might call it backbone, spunk, stamina, guts, or drive and perseverance. It is a measure of integrity that surpasses the hardship and sees through to the end. Sisu is the quality that lets them pick up, move on, and learn something from previous failures. It’s the hard-jawed integrity that makes them pay their war debts in full. In short, it’s the indomitable will that sets Finns apart and explains many of the incredible things they do.
Some people have more sisu than others. So next time you see someone feeling blue, help them find their inner sisu. They'll be happy you did.
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