Once again, Finland has ranked #1 in the UN’s 2020 World Happiness Report, and, as always, it will have come as a surprise to some people. When you compare Helsinki to the likes of California, for example, it might make you wonder how happy anyone could be while standing out in the cold. However, in spite of the not-so-favorable weather conditions, the country still tops the rankings. Finland may not be the biggest or the most powerful nation in the world, but it has plenty to offer that other countries don’t.
But what exactly is the World Happiness Report? It takes into account factors such as healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, gross domestic product (GDP), generosity, social support from friends, perceived corruption, as well as recent emotions of the respondents, both good and bad.
Work In Progress
Finland has long been praised by a multitude of international bodies for its extensive welfare benefits, low levels of corruption, well-functioning democracy, and its instilled sense of freedom and autonomy. Its progressive taxation and wealth distribution has allowed for a flourishing universal healthcare system, and, staggeringly, more than 80% of Finns trust their police force, which is far more than many other countries can claim.
Finland has long been punching above its weight within the global economy, too, giving the world global brands such as Nokia, Rovio (developer of Angry Birds), Supercell (creators of Clash of Clans) and elevator manufacturer KONE.
The country is famous for being one of the first countries to push the flat working model, which exemplifies the Finnish approach to how businesses should be run, as well as how employees should be treated in the workplace. The flat working model is one in which there are few – or sometimes even zero – hierarchal levels between management and staff. Typically there is less supervision of employees and the structure aims to promote increased involvement with organizational decision-making, enabling open communication between all departments and teams within a business.
As a result, this often leads to a significant increase in workplace productivity, team-cohesion, and has helped Finland pioneer agile working, whereby organizations empower its workforces to work, where when and how they choose, offering maximum flexibility and low constraints, something many European countries have only recently started to implement. Agile working has been championed in Finland for well over decade, and this has played a significant role in the wellbeing of Finnish citizens because overall happiness is inextricably linked with the perceived joy one gets from their job, and whether they can find a healthy work-life balance. Finland, like many other Nordic countries, excels in this area.
With the country’s commitment to closing the gender pay gap, as well as high-quality education, Finland is in fact the only country in the developed world in which fathers spend more time with school-aged children than mothers. This is a testament to the nation’s progressiveness. For mothers who do choose to stay home, it’s very common for them to do so for several months or even years to ensure that they are present for the formative years of their children.
Different But The Same
Finland has also been a long-time outlier in the fight against inequality. At a time when the gap between the rich and the poor is widening in most countries around the world, Finland has consistently worked to ensure that its poorest citizens are looked after. The fight against inequality is one that many countries continually struggle with, but Finland is one that has made a point to stay the course and keep it atop the priority list.
There is a Finnish philosophy that is said to underpin everything that it means to be Finnish – ‘sisu’. While it’s nearly impossible to translate ‘sisu’ into English, the closest translation would be something similar to ‘strength of will’ or ‘stoic perseverance’. Finland embodies this principle in countless ways, such as with its successful approach to ending homelessness. The country’s novel ‘housing first’ principle ensures that, after being given the right support, rough sleepers can own a home of their own; a non-traditional approach to a traditional problem.
The happiness of the Finnish people stems not only from its large number of welfare policies, its intrinsic affinity for mutual trust and equality but also from freedom. The mindset that one can only be free and independent if everyone is equally free and independent drives the country’s policy-making and underpins what it means to be Finnish.
For many, it’s about living in a country where all conceivable basic needs are met, whether that’s healthcare, education, or having a job that makes you feel fulfilled. The overarching theme is that Finland remains ahead of the curve in so many facets of life. For now, Finland is ranking top, but the hope is that the example Finland is setting helps other countries to better care for their people. The fact that the country continues to pioneer social and economic welfare, education and working best-practice is something of which other countries should take note when looking at improving the happiness of their people.