Finding that Happy Place

Why Finland tops the world

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For four straight years, Finland has earned the title of the Happiest Country in the World. It’s gotten that moniker by way of the World Happiness Report and its criteria: income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, trust and generosity.

In a sign of how seriously the Finns take this achievement, the news of their latest win could be found on page 19 of Ilta-Sanomat, the daily newspaper. As a New York Times story wryly noted, some Finns responded to the ranking with this: “Really?” The lede of that story, by Jenny Gross and Johanna Lemola, opened with a joke about coronavirus restrictions: Told that they would have to stay two meters apart, Finns asked, “Why can’t we stick to the usual four meters?”

As the husband of a Finn, who not only was married in Helsinki but also lived there for four years, I too am rather suspect of the accolade. Clearly, the ranking officials didn’t gather evidence in November, when the days grow shorter, darker, colder and wetter; I doubt they were riding in a bus, when the atmosphere among the sullen passengers can be thick with ill-will as everyone is girding themselves for the long, dark winter ahead.

But this isn’t meant as a dig on the Finns, whose remarkable country deserves special attention for its egalitarianism, near-absence of governmental corruption, excellent health care for all, world-renowned public education, free college, natural beauty and more. There’s a solid reason why they keep topping the list for the general well-being their country makes possible.

That New York Times story—and a week like the country has gone through with the George Floyd trial—got me thinking about where we can find the conditions for happiness here. As a parent, I can tell you that it’s not amid the high prices and long lines of Disneyland, despite its tagline as “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

No doubt, more justice, less corruption and crime, and a whole lot more commitment to equality will enhance the nation’s well-being. Then again, after the year we’ve been through with the pandemic, the insurrection, the continuing police shootings and the continuing attacks on our democracy—to name a few of the year’s low lights—just eating at a restaurant, drinking a pint with a vaccinated friend, walking my dog, laughing with my daughters or watching a movie with my wife feel like very happy spots to be.

At another time, we may want to take a more serious look at the positive characteristics America and Americans may emulate from our peers around the world. But for now, I’d welcome hearing where some of those happy places are for you.