The Happy Finns

Scene from “Sisu”  If you enjoy movies where Nazis have their asses handed to them, this one’s for you. And the ending is so very Finnish.

When I asked Frank Martela what makes him happy, he held out his phone and showed me a photo of a row of brightly colored children’s bikes. “I was taking my youngest kid to preschool when I saw all these tiny bicycles — hundreds of them parked outside,” he said. Some of the kids, who are as young as 7, travel to and from school by themselves and go out to play alone too. Martela, a philosopher and researcher at Aalto University in Espoo, 12 miles from Finland’s capital, Helsinki, treasures the freedom his three children have there. “Young children can move on their own,” he said. “It’s something that Finnish people might not think about if they’ve never been outside the country. They just take it for granted.”

Finland’s high levels of social trust could be one reason the country has been ranked as the world’s happiest for six years in a row. As the World Happiness Report, which does the ranking, notes, most Finns expect their wallet to be returned to them if they lose it. “In Helsinki it is completely normal to leave the baby outside, obviously with a baby monitor and if possible by the window, so you can see the stroller while shopping or having coffee,” said Jennifer De Paola, a social psychologist and an expert on Finnish happiness who moved to Finland when she was 25. (When I interviewed her in a café in Helsinki, De Paola’s 7-month-old was napping at her side.)

The country is also known for its focus on work-life balance. That point is underscored when I go to meet Heli Jimenez, of Visit Finland, at a Helsinki office block shortly after 5 p.m. Apart from us, the place is almost empty as workers have left for the day. Jimenez told me that Finns were surprised people in other countries didn’t have “simple skills,” like how to build a fire out in nature.

So Finns have liberated children, trust their neighbors, commune with nature, and leave work on time. But ask them what they think of the happiness report, and you’ll get a surprising answer. “We’re always surprised that we are still the first,” Meri Larivaara, a mental-health advocate, told me in yet another Helsinki coffee shop. “Every year there is a debate like, ‘How is this possible?”

In fact, locals I talked to were exasperated by the survey and even annoyed by the global perception of them as happy. Mentions of the report prompt eye-rolls and sighs. “We don’t agree with it — it’s just not real for us,” an interior designer told me, without giving me a name. A better word to describe Finns would be “content,” Jimenez said. “Because we are satisfied with our lives.”

Comment: Contentment… how un-American.


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24 Responses to The Happy Finns

  1. mcohen says:

    Pity about the grain deliveries being attacked by Russia.Bad joss.Payback going to be a tempteous wife.

  2. ked says:

    hey! as a child in the ’60s I had that kind of experience right here in the good ol’ USA – living on & around a coupla USAF bases. the whole place (except the blockhouse Dad worked & flightline) was our backyard… we freely rode bikes, played ball-games, built forts & formed armies – it was great! guess gated communities are the present civilian flavor… do HOAs allow fort-building?

    • TTG says:


      I grew up in a New England town much like that. My parents always left the keys in the cars at home and the house never had a working lock on the doors until I went to college.

  3. Stefan says:

    This goes against the mythos that we are sold as Americans. Rugged individualism, everyone for themselves. Fins believe it takes a village, it is the only way the scene painted in the article works. In the US that is socialism and to be despise. Leave your child outside in the US? You wouldnt even do that in a small town here in the US. Just not safe. We are all too busy looking out for ourselves, but someone would find time to call and report you to the local branch of CPS (Child Protective Service). We all knew Fins were pinko, socialist tree huggers. What an awful life they live. They only say they are the most happy and content because they are brain washed to do so.

    • Morongobill says:

      That attitude has taken root in recent decades. Sure wasn’t like that growing up in Georgia during the 60’s, thank God.

    • babelthuap says:

      I grew up in the early 80’s. We rode bikes everywhere. To school, baseball park, fishing hole. All that started to change with Atari, Nintendo, Commodore 64. I wanted a job to buy video games, Guess jeans, Swatch watches.

      Today in my neighborhood there are still some bike riders but the cool thing to do for kids is ride around in these quasi golf cart things and electric scooters. I will say though they do obey the traffic laws. They seem like good kids. Chubby kids but they seem alright.

    • Fred says:


      “Just not safe.”

      LOL The land of George Floyd, which party was running that place? What’s the crime statsin “in a small town here in the US.” vs. anywhere with a Soros backed prosecutor? But not to worry, immigration is Finland’s strength and I’m sure the new Finn’s will be just like the old ones.

      • Stefan says:

        Attempts to try and point fingers at political parties in the US will fail. Both are not really interested in the culture wars they both push. The multi millionaire/billionaires that run BOTH parties are interested in one thing. Taking more and more of our money. Keeping the average American at each other’s throats works great so the real issues in our country cannot be addressed. What are the over dose rates in rural/small town/fly over America? All of America has unique problems. But our leaders are not really interested in solving them. They are interested in robbing us blind, stealing our wealth. Nothing else. Look at the leaders in Congress, in both parties. Overwhelmingly ultra rich, yet both parties would maintain they are interested in the common American. They are not.

        You are highly invested in the culture wars and the division that both parties are selling us. Do you REALLY think Trump is interested in the “moral majority” type agenda? That he cares about small government or draining the swamp? His life is a what is what example of an immoral life. He didnt drain the swamp or make smaller government whilst he was in DC, despite how he and the GOP spin it. Trump is part of the swamp, part of the establishment. Why would he want to harm the same system he is a part of and benefits so greatly from?

        Do you really think the leaders in the Democratic Party care about which bathroom your trans grandson goes in? Or that they really care about the inner cities? None of this is true. This is why you are far more likely to catch one of these “moral majority” GOP types with a male prostitute than you are finding Democratic Party leaders living with the communities they say they want to protect.

        It is a scam and you have fell for it. Both parties dont care about anything but robbing you blind and for them to become richer and your expense.

  4. Whitewall says:

    Contentment…maybe the greatest condition in life. Such a condition will never be allowed in America. Too many factions and interest groups would go broke.

    • different clue says:

      The Finns pay enough taxes to a government they trust to spend the taxes on mutually-assured survival-support for all Finnish citizens. For a nice life beyond some survival basics, I assume they work more beyond the paid taxes to be able to individually afford the personal-individual nicer things.

      Co-assuring some survival basics that way will not cause contentment, but it will life enough survival-fear and survival-worry to make contentment possible to be cultivated.

      Some may call it “Socialism!”. If so, it appears to be ‘socialism’ as a tool rather than “Socialism!” as a goal.

      • ked says:

        or worse, as a religion.

      • Stefan says:

        You would assume wrong. Having spent time in Finland I can assure you they take their time off seriously. Their standard of living is comparable to the US without the multiple side gigs that Americans are so accustomed to. No need for multiple jobs for most Finns. It is because the system is set up slightly different than the US. Like most of the EU, CEOs of large companies make less than their American counterparts. The system, whilst still not fair, still is more advantageous to the average Finn. So they are not required to work 2 or 3 jobs like many Americans just to cover the basics.

        Not to mention they live longer, by years and are far more healthy than us Americans. The America populace is eating itself to death, spending itself into an early grave and killing themselves with drugs and alcohol. There is a malaise eating at the American soul. I was shaking my head the other day driving through the rural south. They require 3 or 4 times the amount of handicapped spots at large box stores than in in the cities because so many of the local populace have eaten themselves to the point where they can barely move. These extra handicapped spot service these people.

        It is my experience that those in Northern Europe work very hard, but they play very hard as well and take their time off seriously. They have found a very good balance that we could learn some lessons from.

        We bill ourselves as the greatest country in the world, but on what parameters? The average American doesnt look healthy and the politics in the US certainly do not indicate a healthy society.

        • different clue says:

          If Finns work enough to have some money left over after they pay their taxes, then that means that they work more than just the time needed to make just enough money to actually pay taxes with. If they do, then that means they have some money left over after paying taxes from working longer than just-long-enough to make the just-enough money to pay taxes with. In which case, I assume correctly. And you have disunderstood what I wrote.

          Nowhere in my comment did I claim they overwork like many Americans are forced to due to underpayment-per-unit time for their work, as well as the careful cultivation of millions of micro-part-time jobs to keep millions of Americans run ragged and busy with.

          Some( not all) of what you describe Finland as having
          is stuff that America got during the Fair Deal to New Deal period and kept through the Eisenhower Administration period. After that the anti-NewDeal conspirators figured out how to begin dismantling the entire New Deal piece by piece, to where the only pieces of it left are the Wages and Hours laws and Social Security.

          I will repeat what I said longish-ago in some past comments, that I am a New Deal Reactionary. The New Deal was a good deal for most of us. I want my New Deal back. Perhaps a New Deal Revival Party could emerge with a name somewhat like that and run on that concept. Maybe they could give themselves a boring cold-oatmeal name like The Social Democratic Party or some such thing.

          They could point out that just as eating sushi does not make Americans into Japanese, deploying some Finnish-style social and economic fairness-relief methods and policies will not make us into Finns.

  5. says:

    Such contentment is impossible in a racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse country.

    The proponents of multiculturalism and mass immigration are enemies of humanity.

    • different clue says:

      The Czarist Empire and now the Russian Federation have never been proponents of mass immigration. But they were always proponents of multiculturalism-lite under a uni-culture over-regime achieved by conquest over centuries.

      The Russian Federation contains many culture-loads of peoples in many States, Regions, Sub-Regions, etc.

      Is Putin a half-enemy of humanity?

      • Peter Williams says:

        So very true. My eldest granddaughter’s BFF is half Nigerian, half Tatarka; her other BFF is half Korean, half Russian; to the kids, they are all Russian. They don’t understand Rossiayane, just Russkii. These two videos show the attitude quite well –

        Another thing going for Russia (and many Eastern European countries) is the Babushka and Dedushka mafia. The all seeing eye of Sauron has nothing on them. We let our daughters and later on granddaughters play in the streets and wander all over town visiting friends, with no worries. This is what Australia was like, probably up to the late 1980s. That’s when the fear of “Stranger Danger” started ti infect society. We’d replaced extended family and community with the nuclear family, and many people didn’t even know their neighbours.

        • different clue says:

          Part of not knowing our neighbors may be due to the wildly excessive population mobility and ever-churning moving around of people in much of this country. You can’t know your neighbors if they totally change every 2-4 years.

          I live in a low-to-moderate income co-op ( one of very few) here in College Townville. There are people who have been here since its founding 50 years ago. There are people here who are children and even a few grandchildren of original or long-ago members. It functions more like a “village” than a “subdivision”. There is some of that looking-out-for-eachother here.

          Off on a tangent . . . I used to think “tatarka” was just a bunch of meaningless syllables. Then I recently read that it was also a word, meaning something like ” of the tatars”. What would that mean? Would that mean ” of tatar ancestry”? And if someone has the last name Tatarka, does that mean that there is some kind of legacy tatar-descent being implied?

  6. Barbara Ann says:

    Yes contentment is in many ways profoundly un-American. Heck the nation was founded on discontent with the status quo. For Americans happiness is something to be pursued, just as liberty is the eternal fight for freedoms – not a state that can ever be attained. And what happiness – the kind to be found in pastoral activity, in Tolkien’s imagined Shire? What of the happiness felt by the few in Shakespeare’s Henry V?

    It is important to recognize that most of the discontent in what remains of society today is manufactured by TPTB for the express purpose of directing our anger towards one another and away from them. Nevertheless unhappiness itself is a fundamental right. It is the surest indication that we still retain the ability to perceive wrong in the world.

    Americans don’t need to be told how happy they are, they just need a functioning democracy so voters, in that most glorious display of subjective self-interest, can choose the guy/gal they think will make them the least unhappy. That’s as good as it gets folks. The UN’s idea of contentment is the comfort blanket that will be used to smother you.

    • TTG says:

      Barbara Ann,

      “most of the discontent in what remains of society today is manufactured by TPTB for the express purpose of directing our anger towards one another and away from them.”

      That does seem to be the signature trait of modern American society. So many revel in their perceived victimhood at the hands of the other. The concept of FIDO does not exist in their feeble, oppressed minds.

  7. scott s. says:

    Well, I suppose the peoples who came to the US from elsewhere didn’t do so because they were content with their lives to that point, other than of course those enslaved (and I have no idea how representative slaves were of the general population in their homelands).

  8. jim ticehurst.. says:

    E. PLURIBUS…. Happy People…Good History…Good Diets…
    Salmon Eaters… The Salmon eat Happy Swedish Herring..
    And Who Can Be Angry in a Sauna..?? I Have a Finnish Knife..
    Just Like in the Movie….You Dont Mess Around With Finn..

  9. different clue says:

    I know very little about Finland. I remember a while ago when a thread turned to questions of the overlap between ethnic ancestry-lines and culture, that someone referrenced tongue-in-cheek memes about Finland being partly Asian. So I did an engine-search on images for that concept.;_ylt=AwrFFsT4t8xk9WswGQ6JzbkF;_ylu=c2VjA3NyBHNsawNpbWcEb2lkAzYwY2RiYTFmN2YyNGM3MWVmYjIyZDk3ZTQ2Mjg4MmY5BGdwb3MDMQRpdANiaW5n?

    Then I saw a tiny video by a funny Finn who heard about this and made satirical fun of it, called Finns Are Mongols.

    When I saw this, I felt as though I recognized the voice from somewhere. After a while it came to me maybe. I think this is the man and voice behind You Tubes “Hydraulic Press Channel”. The episode is ” Which is the Strongest Tree? Hydraulic Press Test”. If anyone watches this and listens to the voice, does anyone else think this is the same voice from the video ” Finns are Mongols”? Here is the link.

    So Finns have a sense of humor, clearly.

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