We have long winters. We don’t take anything for granted and we learn to appreciate the small mercies of life. One great summer is enough to make the whole year feel fine. In some cultures, people stay at home in winter and wait for spring. We are not like that. We go out and enjoy the winter snow by skiing and having warm drinks. We are similar to Europeans, but we don’t do small talk and we are not excitable. Our quality of life is quite high. Art and nature are easily available. I love nature. When I was young I used to hang out in parks and beaches to study. It is peaceful, clean and good for you. Now I live near the beach. It kind of makes you philosophical. It is a constant sound that reminds me that the waves come and go. One day I won’t be here. But the waves will still come and go.
Markus Antinnen, 29
economist working for the government
The best part of living in Helsinki is that in 30 minutes you can reach beautiful forests and no wild animals. We love our summer cottages because it is therapeutic. We have limited internet access, so the big projects of the day are swimming, hiking and eating healthy. The bad part is the long winter. It messes up your metabolism. Most people understand happiness as dancing and jumping, and enjoying moment to moment. But we are not like that. We are reserved, pensive. When the whole family gets together, we may dance. The idea of fun for my generation was clubbing and partying. But now the younger generation has, to a great extent, stopped drinking alcohol. What I love about Finland is the punctuality. If a plumber says he will come at 10am, he is at the door at 10am. I worry about the future of the welfare state. There are challenging issues―ageing population, immigration, higher taxes.
Iiris Harma, 52
Our number 1 happiness position is exaggerated. We don’t see ourselves as happy; maybe I don’t understand how this index works. But life is good in Finland. I travel a lot, and I see good and bad everywhere. What is good in our society is that everything functions well. We can trust the police, institutions and politicians. If something happens to us, we will be taken care of. Authorities are not corrupt. What shocks me is how dirty some foreign cities are, with piles of rubbish everywhere. Here, cleanliness is a civic virtue, keeping things clean is a natural habit. When the environment is taken care of, it is not only clean but you feel safe. I have three children and I feel so lucky. Children can walk to school, keep their bikes outside, take skis into the forest.
Ella Palo, 25
student of technology, engineering, global politics and communication at the University of Helsinki
All my life I have lived in Finland, though I have been to Spain and Singapore as an exchange student. Then I realised how lucky I am to be a Finn. Education is free for us. I saw how students of all other nationalities really struggle, except the rich ones. I found this shocking. But I loved Spain (Spain ranks 32 on the Happiness Index). Things are happening all the time, people are more spontaneous. Maybe it is because of the weather. In Finland, you meet only your own circle. In Spain, you constantly meet and connect with strangers in bars, streets and restaurants. I miss this in Finland. The weather in winter here is gloomy, people tend to be depressed, tend to drink. But thanks to the Sober Curious Movement, youngsters have more options not to drink. They drink interesting mocktails instead of cocktails.
Jamal Aden, 32
Somali-origin Finn, works in a warehouse
My father was working in the Somali embassy in Helsinki when war broke out in Somalia. So my parents stayed on in Helsinki. We are four children, all born in Helsinki and all studied in public schools. Finland is a fantastic country. It is safe, clean and well-organised. There are many Indians working in IT, so there are Indian restaurants here. When I get holiday, I don’t go to cottages like the Finns. I go to Germany, France and Norway. My parents are retired and right now they are holidaying in warm Turkey. I speak fluent English, but Finnish is still difficult for me. I can even understand Swedish and Norwegian, but Finnish is a language no one else speaks in Europe. I have not experienced racism, and I have never heard local people say, “Go home”. If we go, what will they do? They need people like us.
The biggest difference I find when I travel to other countries is the safety and life security we have in Finland. When I moved from Helsinki to London to study, I was shocked that education was not free. Also, the quality of housing was poor. Helsinki is quieter, slower and less chaotic than London or Paris. I like that and that we have so much nature at our doorstep. I live in the southern coast of Helsinki. When you live close to nature, life is peaceful, slower. One of my fondest memories is picking blueberries with my grandmother around our summer cottage. She taught me how to pick mushrooms. It was such a beautiful experience of being calm and in nature. I read reports of Finn racism. I am a Sámi (indigenous community) and my father is Portuguese, I haven’t experienced it. Finns are introverted. The social circles are tightly knit, so it is hard to integrate. Finns don’t see it as rude if they don’t smile when they meet people.
Photos by Anita Pratap