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Lessons from the Happiest Countries in the World

The Personal Kaizen team has recently reviewed the tenth annual rankings of the happiest countries in the world and read several books that examine what these countries do that is different and better. Over the next several weeks we are going to review some of the differentiators we observe with the governments and people in these countries.

2022 Rankings of the Happiest Countries in the World

Below are the 2022 United Nations Rankings for a few of the Happiest Countries in the World. We share a few of the positive outcomes that contributed to the high ranking and one defining word for the country. Our next several posts will look at each country one at a time and also look at the features that contribute to the national identity and overall happiness.

RankCountryContributing to High ScoreDefining Word
1FinlandFreedom, communal support, trust Sisu
2DenmarkSupport, trust, equalityHygge
5NetherlandsGenerosity, low corruptionNiksen
7SwedenLack of corruption, GDP, life expectancyLagom

Some of the key factors and ranking questions for the study are:

A group of people enjoying life. -Happiest Countries in the World
  • Life expectancy data
  • Gross domestic product (GDP) data
  • Perception and data on generosity
  • Perception on freedom to make life choices
  • Perception on crime and corruption
  • Equality and trust
  • Do you have social support from friends and neighbors?
  • Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
  • Were you treated with respect yesterday?

You can read the entire report with the study rationale here. For comparison, the United States finished in 16th place in 2022, a slight increase from the 19th place finish in 2021.

What Makes Finland the Happiest Country in the World?

Finland has now been ranked the happiest country in the world for the last five years in a row. Here are a few of the “quality of life” reasons that contribute to the high ranking.

  • Finns have free universal healthcare and excellent free education (without testing) including college.
  • Finland has made an effort to shorten the gap between the rich and poor in the country.
  • Social services are in place to support the poor. All young children receive gifts for a good start in life. Anyone homeless is provided with housing.
  • The Finns tend to trust the police and other government services.
  • Finland is home to several top technology companies, including Nokia. The overall GDP is high.
  • They have long promoted the flat working model (with fewer levels of management), flex time, and remote work.
  • Gender equality is a focus, with wage equality and also equality in paternal and maternal leave for children.

The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu

Journalist Katja Pantzar moved to the remote Nordic country of Finland to discover what makes the people there so happy. She discovered the concept of sisu and its benefits for her body, mind, and spirit. She wrote The Finnish Way: Finding Courage, Wellness, and Happiness Through the Power of Sisu to show readers the “keep it simple and sensible” daily practices that have made the Finns the happiest country in the world.

Sisu is the idea of Stoic Perseverance

The Finnish word sisu (see-sew) does not directly translate into an English word, but it is roughly akin to Stoic determination in the face of extreme adversity. Finns have adopted this philosophy as part of their identity. Sisu expresses itself by taking action against the odds and displaying courage even when the going gets tough. The English word “gutsy” is often considered a metaphor.

What can the Personal Kaizen community learn from the Finns? We can’t easily enact changes to government and policy, but we can adopt the sisu mentality in our life and work. We think this is worth trying.

More Tips from the Finns

Pantzar also shares other differences in the Finnish culture (she moved there from Canada) that contribute to their happiness and sisu.

An empty wooden sauna.
  • Cold water cures: Finns are known for their “winter swimming clubs” and discovered the benefits of cold-water exposure long ago.
  • Sweating for health in a sauna: The word “sauna” is likely the most popular Finnish word that has made it into the English dictionary. In a country of 5.5 million people, it is estimated that there are 3.3 million saunas. Heat and steam have many health benefits, and saunas are often combined with cold water dips.
  • Pedaling for Happiness (and Health): It is common for Finns to ride bikes around town for health and environmental benefits. Most cities in Finland have well-established bike lanes to facilitate this.
  • The Nordic Diet: Finns have a simple and sensible (sisu) approach to eating – cut back on sugary treats, increase fruits and vegetables, and stay active. Good habits, not diets or extreme fasts, are the way to health – with vegetables and fish the staples of their diet.

More Lessons from the Happiest Countries in the World

We will return in the next several weeks with additional lessons from some of the happiest countries in the world. We hope you learned something from this post and are inspired to have a more sisu attitude. Please leave comments and questions below!

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