The UN just released its 2018 World Happiness Report, an annual ranking of the overall satisfaction of 156 countries, ahead of the International Day of Happiness at the United Nations on March 20. The rankings are based on the pooled results of the Gallup World Poll surveys from 2015-2017, and take into account six key factors: income, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and trust in government.
Unfortunately, the United States has fallen to a historic low, from number 14th to number 18th. According to report co-editor Jeffrey D. Sachs, the reason for this sharp decline is “because of the ongoing epidemics of obesity, substance abuse, and untreated depression.”
Yikes. On the flip-side, the top ten countries included Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia—countries that have consistently ranked high on the list since it first began in 2012. This year’s development, however, is that Finland beat out Norway for the number one spot, not only in the happiness of locals, but in the newly introduced happiness ranking of immigrants. The authors of the report emphasized that differences the that bumped Norway out of first place are fairly tiny, and no country has ever held the title two years in a row.
Still, what makes Finland such a happy place, and what does it have in common with other parts of the world in which people enjoy long, happy lives? Let’s find out. And for a more local ranking of happy places, check out The 100 Happiest Cities in America.
The citizens aren’t super rich
One of the interesting things about Finland is that its GDP per capita is actually lower that some other countries in the top slots (only around $43,000 in comparison to Luxembourg’s $101,715). It’s especially interesting given that America has gotten richer, but less happy since last year. This proves that social freedom and trust in your government outweighs wealth, which is not that surprising actually, given the recent study on how little money you need to be happy.
They pay higher taxes
Taxes in Finland are higher than they are in the U.S., but people don’t mind that because they feel that money benefits the overall fabric of society. “An interesting comparison could be made between Finland and the UK,” Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute, told Huffpost UK. “These countries share a very similar level of GDP per capita, but Finland converts its wealth into wellbeing in a much better way than the UK. In Finland, paying some of the highest taxes in the world—for which there is wide public support for—is seen as an investments in quality of life for all. Free health care and free university education goes a long way when it comes to happiness.”
A 2018 travel map listed Finland as the safest in the world, thanks to its lack of terrorism, its low security threat, its lack of natural disasters, and its excellent roads. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2017–2018, it’s also got the least organized crime.
It’s a tolerant country
Religious and social tolerance is consistently emphasized as the key to why Nordic countries continually rank so high in happiness. According to The Legatum Prosperity Index, Finland is the ninth most tolerant nation in the world.
There’s a good balance of gender power
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, Finland ranks third in the world for gender equality.
It’s a healthy place
While the Bloomberg Global Health Index named Italy the healthiest country in the world, Finland was not far behind, and it’s no mystery as to why that is. After all, this is the country that brought us saunas, which have an enormous range of benefits, such as detoxing, weight loss, blood circulation, and more. Plus, it’s relaxing!
They promote social liberty
Social liberty is also considered to be one of the key factor that make Nordic countries so filled with good vibes. According to the 2017 Social Progress Index, Finland has the most personal freedom and choice in the world.
There’s a ton to do
Between the Northern Lights, the reindeer, and the Game of Thrones-themed hotels, there’s certainly no shortage of beauty in this country.
Its immigrants are happy
This year, for the first time ever, the UN released a companion report which ranked 117 countries by the happiness of their immigrants, which Finland also ranked number one on. “The most striking finding of the report is the remarkable consistency between the happiness of immigrants and the locally born,” co-editor Professor John Helliwell of the University of British Columbia said.
Even though hygge–the state of finding joy in cosy pleasures like drinking hot cocoa by the fire when it’s snowing out–is a Danish term, the concept is popular all over Scandinavia. Coco Wu, 23, from China, told the Huffington Post UK that “I think people in Finland feel happy because they understand the essence of life can be very simple. They can enjoy the simplicity of life and don’t greed for more. The relationships between people in Finnish society are also simple – not as competitive as in China. And of course, the living condition is very good here.”
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