Opinion: Finland’s the world’s happiest nation. Here’s how we do it
Editor’s Note: Marja Heinonen, the author of a number of books, has a lot more than 3 decades’ knowledge as a journalist and editor in her native Finland. She has also worked in academia and holds a doctorate in communications. The views expressed right here are her personal. Study a lot more opinion on CNN.
According to the newest Planet Happiness Report, my nation of Finland has the happiest people today on Earth, a designation it has held for six consecutive years. I picture that news may rankle some Americans, some of whom are fond of touting the American Dream and describing their nation as the greatest in the globe.
Because 2002, the Planet Happiness Report has tabulated the relative happiness of people today about the globe, employing statistical evaluation to take into account components such as gross domestic item per capita, social help, life expectancy, freedom to make one’s personal life alternatives, generosity of the common population and perceptions of the level of corruption in the society.
The US came in 15th out of the 149 nations on the survey. Was that an anomaly? No, America has not cracked the leading dozen, at least not in current years. Final year it was quantity 16. In 2021, it came in 14th location. The earlier year, 2020, it was 18th.
Queried more than the years about their personal level of satisfaction with their lives, Americans regularly deliver answers that land the United States in the double digit rankings behind a lot of other nations.
Like other Nordic nations, Finland has properly-functioning and democratic institutions that deliver their citizens with in depth added benefits and safety. The citizens of our nations trust our institutions, a thing that absolutely can not be mentioned of the United States at present, which according to some assessments is at threat of losing the quite democracy which has extended been its calling card on the international stage. (Incidentally, amongst the other Nordic nations, Denmark was in 2nd location Iceland was 4th Norway was 6th.)
Of course, each and every nation has a distinctive history and has charted a singular path to its present level of national contentment — or lack thereof. Finland and other Nordic nations do not have the deep class divides and financial inequality seasoned by some other nations — like the United States. Our financial systems are not constructed on haves and have-nots, a Darwinian model of survival of the fittest that basically encourages class divisions and strife by rewarding winners who frequently look to succeed by taking benefit of the much less fortunate.
For these of us who reside outdoors of the United States, clearly some of what we know about America is primarily based on generalities — some may even contact them stereotypes — that are shared the globe more than. And nevertheless, I would guess that most of these truisms hold a lot more than a kernel of truth.
Political scientist Ronald Inglehart presented an explanation of why inhabitants of Nordic nations so regularly are the most content material with their lot in life. In a 2020 report titled “Nordic Exceptionalism” — component of that year’s Planet Happiness Report — he mentioned that our nations constitute “the top instance of thriving modernization, maximizing prosperity, social solidarity, and political and private freedom.”
One more function of life in America as viewed from abroad is its exaggerated concentrate on income — earning it, finding a lot more of it and holding onto it as soon as you have it. I utilized to wonder why my American mates spent so significantly of their mental power considering about generating income. I have come to comprehend they had no solution: In the US, the future depends quite significantly on how significantly income you possess. If you can not afford college tuition or to cover your overall health care fees or to set aside funds for your senior years, life can be miserable certainly.
How does the Nordic method lead to general national happiness? Let me use my personal knowledge as an instance.
My father was a building worker and my mother worked in a factory. Thanks to an exemplary education method, I was in a position to earn a doctorate virtually for free of charge. My two daughters have had access to a single of the world’s finest educations — virtually free of charge of price once more. As a single mom, I can not overstate how significant it was that I didn’t have to dig deep into my personal pocket to spend for a excellent education for them.
Day care charges are subsidized for all households in Finland. Just before going to college, my girls had been in a position to attend a amazing, extremely experienced public day care at an exceptionally affordable price, which permitted me to perform.
Then there is the challenge of health-related expenditures — a substantial economic hardship for lots of American households. A single of my daughters had a chronic skeletal illness from the time she was tiny, and health-related therapy lasted a lot more than a decade.
I’m grateful to reside in a nation exactly where my daughter’s health-related expenditures had been very affordable and didn’t ruin our lives. The bulk of the expenditures had been taken care of by the public overall health method. In reality, I paid much less than $1,000 for her hospital stays, medical doctor visits and ten custom braces that she had to put on more than the course of a decade to support right the curvature of her spine. Our taxpayer-funded universal overall health care is higher in excellent, but with no piles of confusing paperwork or substantial bills borne by the patient.
All this is component of our welfare state, which the Nordic nations are popular for. I comprehend that “welfare” is a dirty word for lots of in the United States. But a number of research confirm that welfare state generosity has a tremendous optimistic effect on life satisfaction. Finnish journalist and author Anu Partanen, who has lived for years in the US, shared with me the view that Americans are far a lot more enmeshed in unhealthy dependencies than they comprehend. She writes about this in her book “The Nordic Theory of All the things.”
Some in the US have mentioned they want much less government involvement, not a lot more and criticize Finland as a socialist “nanny state” exactly where the government has as well significantly say about the particulars of individuals’ lives. In Finland, we have located that the government basically frees up organization to concentrate on what they do very best: organization. And that is established to be a boon not just for the economy but for society as a complete.
Partanen says that whilst US providers struggle to administer overall health plans and uncover educated workers, Nordic governments deliver higher-excellent public solutions for all citizens and give absolutely everyone excellent education so that employers have no shortage of certified job applicants.
Survival at the most fundamental, existential level is at the heart of happiness, and in some societies like the US, earning adequate income to reside comfortably can be a difficult organization. Beyond that nevertheless, a lot more income does not necessarily make higher happiness, and may do just the opposite.
Economist Richard Easterlin produced the observation years ago that earnings and happiness are not often linked. A single frequently overlooked, but significant ingredient that tends to make a substantial distinction in terms of escalating a nation’s sense of contentment, is the level of earnings disparity inside the society. A nation with comparatively modest earnings variations usually has fewer disgruntled people today — maybe it is due to the fact there’s much less of a need to have to attempt to “keep up with the Joneses.”
In a nation like mine, exactly where there are no as excellent extremes of wealth or poverty as in the US, the chance to be disenchanted with your lot in life is drastically diminished. And these unfortunate adequate to fall beneath the poverty line in Finland know that there is a network of welfare solutions and public help to support them back on their feet.
Of course, all of this social spending comes at a price and taxes on an typical worker are significantly larger than the taxes paid in the US. We have a single of the world’s highest marginal tax prices — a level of taxation that I comprehend some nations would uncover unacceptable. Very honestly, for us Finns, the general national prosperity and relative lack of social turmoil appears properly worth the more taxes.
According to information from the Organization for Financial Cooperation and Improvement, the typical single worker in Finland faced a net typical tax price of 30.eight% in 2021, compared with the OECD typical of 24.six%. That is larger than most of other nations, but it is the cost that we have decided to spend as a society to have excellent schools, low-price public infrastructure, public overall health care and the like.
Yes it is correct, there is no Finnish equivalent of the American Dream, promising eventual riches just after a lifetime of toil. As an alternative, right here in the Nordic nations we have realized that the secret of happiness is located in a sort of egalitarianism and trust in our institutions. It leads to a societal cohesiveness — and happiness — that income just can not purchase.