(Counter to folks’ perceptions, living in warm, sunny climes does not insure happiness…To the contrary, some of the world’s happiest people live in climates which are cold, dark, and challenging, for much of the year. Why? Read below and then see how the US ranks.)
I had a friend in high school who was fortunate enough to be an exchange student to a foreign country. As such, she was assigned to Finland. She lived with the family for several weeks, sharing their lifestyle, learning their customs.
We knew it was one of those Nordic countries, bordering the mighty Soviet Union, and its people had a strange language we hardly ever heard in our part of the world. But that was the limited scope of our appreciation for that land.
It was the during the 60’s, that period of the Cold War with Russia, a time when we in schools across America practiced “Duck and Cover” drills in case of nuclear attack (as if that would be effective strategy if an atom bomb were dropped).
On one occasion of my friend’s stay, she crossed over–momentarily–into Soviet territory and waved to the camera, proving to us back home that she, indeed stood on soil of our dread enemy. At 17, she flirted with danger, but I’m sorry to admit: We never really cared about Finland in a big way.
Now I do. Why? It’s just been voted one of the Top 3 “Happiest Countries on Earth,” and I want to know “Why?”
For part of its history, Finland was under Russia’s rule. But with the dissolution of the Russian Communist block, countries stepped out from the yoke of the Bear’s sway and Finland won its independence in a strange bloodless revolution, characterized by millions of its people singing for their freedom in the main square.
Exhausted in its impotence, Russia granted them their freedom, for they really had little choice.
Today, when I hear of those who cross hostile borders and are taken prisoner (the journalists who allegedly went into North Korea, student hikers who supposedly entered Iran, as they traversed the Iraq/Iran border), I consider my friend inordinately “lucky.” The cost of today’s youthful missteps earned the hapless hikers prison time and necessitated our country negotiate. Two of the afore-mentioned prisoners remain in captivity, today, whereas my friend’s “capture” was solely on film.
What peculiarities of custom did she note? The Finns are a health-conscious lot who almost all have private saunas in their homes. They use them regularly, frequently running (in the buff) from steaming hot saunas into nearby lakes. It would appear no one’s shy about nudity–especially while bathing/swimming–unless it‘s a visiting American.
If they don’t have in-home saunas, they frequent public facilities, nearby. In Finland, sauna is a way of life and water figures prominently in their lives. Their country is a maze of archipelagos, and a large segment of its population go to the shore in summer, renting cottages where they maximize time in the splendid season, realizing it’s so brief. The long winters of darkness and brief sunlight mandate that.
She told us their diet consists of much fish, and we’ve discovered in recent years that a diet rich in fish is healthier. In that, they were ahead of the rest of us.
Overall, they’re pleased with their government: Finland enjoys a democratic form of government insuring freedom of opinion and religion; its economy allows low business start-up-cost, thus encouraging its young in enterpreneurial endeavors; its citizenry is afforded excellent access to education and universal health care. All conspire to effect an efficient and trusted government.
Who beats them for the honor of being named even happier? Denmark came in at #2, and Norway was #1. The first link below is to an article whose author suggests “What Makes People Happy?” and the second is Forbes list of top 10 Happiest Countries.
Discover where America ranks in the worldwide list and tell us: “How would you rank the U.S. and its citizens for ‘being happy‘?” “Do you find life ‘fulfilling’ here? Why or Why Not?