Frank Martela, PhD, is a philosopher and psychology researcher who studies the fundamentals of happiness. He is also a lecturer at Aalto University in Finland. Here’s what he has to say.
For five years in a row, Finland has ranked No.1 as the happiest country in the world, according to the World Happiness Report.
In 2023’s report, people in 156 countries were asked to “value their lives today on a 0 to 10 scale, with the worst possible life as 0.” It also looks at factors that contribute to social support, life expectancy, generosity, and absence of corruption.
As a Finnish philosopher and psychology researcher who studies the fundamentals of happiness, I’m often asked: What exactly makes people in Finland so exceptionally satisfied with their lives?
To maintain a high quality of life, here are three things we never do:
- We don’t compare ourselves to our neighbors.
There’s a famous line by a Finnish poet: “Don’t compare or brag about your happiness.”
Finns really take this to heart, especially when it comes to material things and overt displays of wealth.
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 hire a driver, but he opted for public transportation.
That’s what success looks like in Finland: “Just like everyone else.”
Happiness tip: Focus more on what makes you happy and less on looking successful. The first step to true happiness is to set your own standards, instead of comparing yourself to others.
- We don’t overlook the benefits of nature.
According to a 2021 survey, 87% of Finns feel that nature is important to them because it provides them with piece of mind, energy, and relaxation.
In Finland employees are entitled to four weeks of summer holiday. Many of us use that time to hit the countryside and immerse ourselves in nature. The fewer amenities, even to the point of no electricity or running water in the house, the better.
A lot of Finnish cities are also 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.
Happiness tip: Spending time in nature increases our vitality, well-being and gives us a sense of personal growth. Find ways to add some greenery to your life, even if it’s just buying a few plants for your home.
- We don’t break the community circle of trust.
Research shows that the higher the level of trust within a country, the happier the citizens are.
A “lost wallet” experiment in 2022 tested the honesty of citizens by dropping 192 wallets in 16 cities around the world. In Helsinki, 11 out of 12 wallets were returned to the owner.
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.
Kids also often take a public bus home from school and play outside without supervision.
Happiness tip: Think about how you can show up to your community. How can you create more trust? How can you support policies that build upon that trust? Small acts like opening doors for strangers or giving up a seat on the train makes a difference too.
Simple but very important things to make you happier.
That’s it for now my friends; see you all the next time.