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Finland tops World Happiness Report for the fourth time

21 Mar 2021

Finland has been named the happiest country in the world for a fourth consecutive year, according to a recent UN-sponsored report. The World Happiness Report accorded second spot to Denmark, followed by Switzerland, Iceland and the Netherlands in the top ten.

Finland’s repeated success in the annual happiness rankings has helped transform the country’s global reputation, boosting tourism and business. And, if you ask some of the Finnish citizens residing in Oman, they all flash a ‘thumbs up’ for the good governance, excellent citizen benefits, a high level of civic freedom, empowerment of people, and the overall atmosphere of contentment among the populace in the country.

The UN-sponsored World Happiness Report, however, had elicited some raised eyebrows when it first placed Finland at the top of its listings in 2018 – many of the Nordic country’s 5.5mn people freely describe themselves as taciturn and prone to melancholy, and admit to eyeing public displays of joyfulness with suspicion.

“When I first heard – and I’m not alone – I had a big laugh,” television producer Tony Ilmoni told AFP on the still-snowy streets of the capital Helsinki on Friday, when Finland was crowned the happiest nation on earth for the fourth year running. 

But the worldwide survey, in fact, seeks to quantify individuals’ personal freedom and satisfaction with their lives, using survey data from 149 countries alongside measures such as GDP, social support and perceptions of corruption. Finland excels with its quietly world-class public services, low levels of crime and inequality, and high levels of trust in authority.

“The basics are really good here: we don’t have anyone living in the streets, we do have unemployment but the health service works, the big things like that,” Riitta Matilainen, a florist, told AFP. “But we could be a bit more outgoing and joyful!”

The northern country’s long, dark winters were once reputed to be behind high levels of alcoholism and suicide, but a decade-long public health drive has helped cut rates by more than half.


Who wouldn’t want to live here

For tourism and country-branding chiefs, the ‘world’s happiest’ title has been a blessing they were quick to capitalise on.

“It’s a really powerful, emotional, evocative thing to say you’re the happiest country in the world. Why would anyone not want to live in the happiest country in the world?” said Joel Willans, a British digital marketer and creator of the “Very Finnish Problems” social media page, who has lived in Finland since the early 2000s.

“Awareness of Finland has grown during the past few years,” Paavo Virkkunen, head of Finland Promotion Services at Business Finland, told AFP.

After four years, the happiness trope has been used by countless Finnish businesses to market lifestyle products and to try to attract workers to relocate and join the country’s tech sector.

Finland’s unflashy cuisine was once derided as something to “endure” by Italian then-president Silvio Berlusconi, and slammed by his French counterpart Jacques Chirac. But restaurateurs and product manufacturers now tout the simplicity and natural ingredients of Finnish cooking, claiming it as key to the country’s no-nonsense approach to wellbeing.

The happiness marketing drive has been led, however, by the travel industry, with Finland’s tourist office appointing Finnish ‘happiness ambassadors’ tasked with introducing visitors to the secrets of Finnish wellbeing.

“People are curious about (our happiness) and they want to learn about it,” Virkkunen said.

Key to the Finnish brand of happiness is going outdoors to enjoy the country’s vast forests and thousands of lakes, as well as the traditional Finnish steam bath, the sauna.

By the start of 2020, tourism to Lapland in northern Finland had reached record levels and the country was attracting more foreign direct investment projects than anywhere else in the Nordics.

While pausing international visitors, the pandemic has, if anything, increased overseas interest in Finland’s clean, sparsely populated nature, leading tourist providers to offer virtual tours.

“Even though people are not able to travel now, you are able to dream about Finland and the happiness of a true connection with nature, where you can really unwind,” said Virkkunen.


Bubble easily burst

Finland’s four-year dominance in the happiness stakes leaves one problem – where to go from here?

When this year’s results were announced, “It would’ve been more news, if Finland had been knocked off the top spot,” Joel Willans joked. The long-time Finnish resident believes that the country’s well-functioning, low-stress society has, in fact, lowered Finns’ tolerance for when things do go wrong.

“They get really aggrieved,” he said. “Their happiness bubble is easily pricked when things don’t go perfectly.”

But the benefits of the world happiness title will be long-lasting, Virkkunen believes. “I think we have grown as a nation, understanding the basics of happiness a bit better than we understood before,” he said.


Matti Sirvio

Proprietor, Matti Sirvio Art Galleria

I think that our happiness is based on the founding values of our country – home, religion and homeland. People’s individuality is respected and people feel that their voice is being heard. We have been blessed with a lot of room for everybody to enjoy the clean air and the beautiful nature. Finland has no ambitions to rule over the whole world.

H E Abdulredha Mustafa Sultan

Finland Honorary Consul in Oman

It is great to know that Finland continues to be regarded as the happiest country in the world. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that all Finnish citizens enjoy a very high level of benefits, which include civic benefits as well as world class healthcare facilities and other privileges. Also, Finland has a very low level of crime and corruption, it has a well functioning democracy, and people enjoy a good sense of freedom and independence within legal and accepted norms. Workwise, innovation and technological progress is much encouraged and it forms an integral part of the Finnish DNA. There is a high level of empowerment in the country, a sense of belonging among the population and equality which is evident from the highest level of women’s participation in the government.

Terhi Merensky

Principal, Finland Oman School

It might make you wonder how happy anyone could be while standing out in the sub-zero cold. However, Finland has plenty to offer and our happiness is linked with several factors – welfare, people’s trust in each other, equality, safety, healthy work-life balance. It is the way of life, more than one factor. All these elements are also part of successful education and happy lifestyle. In Finland, we start early. We rank high in PISA, but we do not train our students for PISA. We train them for life. Education through the joy of learning. Happy children become happy adults.

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