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What makes me happy is...
I think I was definitely born happy, and then life happens.
I'm getting a bit emotional here.
I feel very happy.
Very happy. I'm happier now than when I lived in New York
and I got paid probably twice as much in New York as I do
here. Our happiness is kind of like quiet happiness, kind
of a stillness. What does it take to be happy?
The Nordic countries seem to have it all figured out.
Finland and Denmark have consistently topped the United
Nations' most prestigious index, the World Happiness
Report, in all six areas of life satisfaction.
How have they cracked the formula?
And, are the people they are really the happiest?
The United Nations just named the happiest place on Earth.
It is not Disneyworld.
It's Finland. In 2019, the World Happiness Report named
Finland the happiest country in the world for the second
year in a row. Denmark came in second place after claiming
the top slot in 2013 and 2016.
Year after year, Nordic countries like Norway, Iceland and
Sweden round out the top of the list.
Enter Jeffrey Sachs, a professor at Columbia and the
co-editor of the World Happiness Report.
What do those countries have?
They have a high level of prosperity, to be sure, but
they're not the richest countries in the world by any
means. The idea is a good balance of life.
You don't have to get super rich to be happy, they believe.
In fact, if someone's super rich, they, look, what's wrong
with that person? So they're not societies that are aiming
for all of the effort and time to becoming gazillionaires.
They're looking for a good balance of life and the results
are extremely positive.
The annual happiness ranking began in 2012, but we can
trace measuring happiness back to 1971.
It came in the inspiration of the country of Bhutan, a
country in the Himalayas that many people know for its
innovation of attempting to measure gross national
happiness. Globally, a standard for measuring success and
productivity is gross national product.
Bhutan had the bright idea of trying to measure happiness.
Measuring happiness is a fairly complicated business.
First of all, we need to understand what happiness means.
It means the satisfaction with the way one's life is going.
It's not primarily a measure of whether one laughed or
smiled yesterday, but how one feels about the course of
one's life. Meet Meik Wiking, happiness researcher and CEO
of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark.
There is a lot of factors that impact happiness, everything
from biology to income levels to the city they live in.
But I think the best predictor we see in the data of
whether people are happy or not is whether they're
satisfied or happy with their relationships.
So, do we have somebody we can rely on in times of need?
Do we have somebody we can share our hopes and worries
with? These six categories help account for the differences
in life satisfaction around the world.
GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make
life choices, social support, generosity, and absence of
corruption. On average, richer countries are happier.
On average, richer people are happier.
But, once we get to a certain level of income, an
additional $100 a month is not going to impact how people
feel about their lives. So, with money, like with
everything else, we see diminishing marginal return.
And I don't know why I'm bringing up this quote, because
it's extremely corny, but there is a Kanye West song in
which he says that, "Having money is not everything.
Not having it is." And I do think that's true in the sense
that when you don't have it, it's all you worry about.
And when you do have money, you can actually worry about
other stuff. Happiness also seems like this elusive thing.
We have two words for happiness in Danish.
So we have "lykke," which is the elusive thing.
The thing you experience once every blue moon.
And then we have to be "glad," like the word glad, which is
different because it's more down to Earth and you can be
glad despite the fact that it's not anything special, it's
no special day.
Lykke seems like this elusive thing that you can't quite
chase. To be glad is more like our mindset.
So I feel more like I choose to be glad at times rather
than sort of trying to chase happiness because that seems
like it's never going to happen that way.
Maria lives in Helsinki with her husband, Duke, and her
2-year-old son, Luka.
Woah! Wow! Ah, hi! Yeah! There it is. There it is, you
little monster.
Finland is the best place to have kids.
When you go give birth, it's almost free.
We stayed in the hospital three full days as a family.
We had our own family room and we got like meals and
support and help and everything.
And the bill was about €300 in the end.
It's basically like living in a hotel.
In Finland, new mothers receive a free baby box jam-packed
with 63 items to help with the baby's first year.
You don't have to buy anything for the first two, three
months. Of course, diapers and stuff like that, but
basically. And also, you can actually put your baby to
sleep in that box.
Our baby actually, Luka slept in the box for the first
month. Finland, along with the other Nordic countries,
offers generous parental leave.
Anu Partanen, author of "The Nordic Theory of Everything,"
spent 10 years as a journalist in the U.S.
before returning to her home country, Finland.
She's also a mother. In Finland, you get 10 months of paid
parental leave, out of which about four months is set aside
for the mother and you start it before the baby is born and
then father can keep nine weeks.
Typically, both parents stay home for the first three
weeks. They share the rest of the time until the baby is
nine months old.
A parent can even stay home until the child is 3 years old
and keep his or her job.
However, the stipend is much smaller.
Another determinant of well-being is one's sense of
personal freedom to make important life choices.
Can you shape your life the way you want?
Christina was unhappy at her job in advertising and took an
eight-month break. Social security is also something I
think is very important.
What I did didn't make me happy and it didn't let me have
that work-life balance that we cherish so much here.
And so we have a system that made it possible for me to
quit my job and have some thinking time and figure out, you
know, what's my next step in life.
Christina received about $2,000 a month from the Danish
government while she was unemployed.
She is now in school to become a painter.
Her tuition is covered and she receives an educational
stipend of about $1,000 a month.
Two of the biggest perks of life in Denmark and Finland are
free education and free health care.
Income taxes are not at all as high in the Nordic countries
that Americans tend to think.
However, overall, it is completely true that the Nordic
countries collect more taxes in general than the United
States does. In Finland and the Nordic countries, there are
higher taxes on consumption, like eating in restaurants and
buying jeans. But the thing that I think a lot of Americans
forget is that the Nordic people are happy to pay those
taxes because they get services in return.
Day care, great public education.
It includes your college tuition, free.
It includes healthcare, all of those are included in your
taxes. When the news hit that Finland is the happiest
country in the world, I think most people kind of reacted
to it, like, what are they talking about?
We don't think of ourselves as very happy because it's dark
and gloomy in the winter and whatever.
It's easier for Finns and Danes to shape their lives
because the government supports so many of their basic
needs. The American dream is probably more alive in
Denmark. The perception of freedom is probably also a
little bit different. It seems like in the U.S.
the feeling is you have to be protected from the government
and you have to have freedom from the government.
I think in Denmark the sense is that the government
protects you. People trust other people.
You leave a bag in a restaurant in Finland, you're pretty
sure you're going to make it back and the money is still
there. People even leave babies parked in strollers outside
coffee shops while they run errands.
And I think partly the Nordic society cultivates that trust
simply by providing basic services for everyone.
So there's much less poverty, much less feeling of
injustice, inequality, crime.
People get the education they need.
They can have a job. They can work.
They don't have to struggle in life as much.
There isn't super wealth and there's absolutely no super
poverty. Everybody participates.
It turns out it leads to a wonderful kind of life and one
that is expressed, year after year, as making these
countries the happiest countries in the world.
Monica and Alex are expats who live in Copenhagen with
their two teenagers.
Alex is originally from the UK and Monica is originally
from New York.
What else do you need?
The olive oil, and then the balsamic vinegar.
Where's the bowl? We originally came here expecting to stay
only three years, but it was so good, we've been here nine
now. It's also safe.
And this comes back to the community and the trust.
We can let our kids go out and we do not have to sit here
being really worried that, are they going to come back?
Are they safe where they're going?
Do we have to go pick them up?
You still worry, of course, but it's just very different.
There's still this very strong sense of family, friends,
community. Balance is the formula for happiness.
Aristotle had it right when he launched the study of
happiness 2,300 years ago.
According to Aristotle's Golden Mean, good behavior lies
between two vices, excess and deficiency.
People who pursue only money and say, "I'll be happier the
richer I am," turn out to be less happy.
I do think having nice surroundings is a part of happiness.
But I also think it needs to be linked with something that
sort of resonates with you on a deeper level.
Having nice surroundings and having a lot of money and
being in a five-star hotel in Las Vegas doesn't make you
happy at all. So I think it needs to have that balance.
Cue the classic Nordic work-life balance.
Rich Perusi, former New Yorker, has been living in
Copenhagen for seven years.
People stay pretty tight to a 9 to 5 workday.
But I do think that we get as much done in a short period
of time here as we were doing in longer times working in
New York. One of the comments we actually heard when we
first came here was a Dane saying, when she saw someone
working late, "Are they doing it because they can't get
their work done? Is there something wrong with them?"
Versus, "Are they just trying to get ahead in working?"
There is a sense that, yes, work's important and you need
to get your work done to a high quality, but you also need
to make sure it's balanced appropriately.
Saara Alhopuro is a diplomat who has shaped her work
schedule to make time for her passion.
So, I actually need to go to my physical workplace only
three days a week.
So then the rest of the time I can spend here in the middle
of nature. When I walk in the forest, I walk there very
quietly, paying attention to all the small details and all
the colors. Very slowly, and I try to spot all the small,
small details. And I completely lose the track of time.
Usually, I spend about five to six hours picking mushrooms.
People don't make as much money in the Nordic countries as
they do in the U.S.
So, it's not really about how much you make.
You don't have to make as much to get the same quality of
life as you would in the United States.
So, if we look at the dimension called life satisfaction,
we can see that that money does matter for well-being and
happiness. But I mean, on average, richer countries are
happier. On average, richer people are happier.
But, the mechanism here is being without money is a cause
of unhappiness. Not everyone likes to talk about money
either. In Finland, it's been this kind of rule that you
don't talk about money that much, at least like my parents
basically wouldn't tell me how much they made, for example,
if I would ask as a kid.
It would be considered bragging if you would tell about how
much you make, etc. People are happier when they are
generous and when they feel that the society that they're
in is a generous society.
And then we find people want to live in places with decent
government. If government is corrupt, if leaders are
bizarre or autocratic or corrupt, the society is unhappy.
In 2019, Finland elected the world's youngest-serving prime
minister, 34 year old Sanna Marin.
Danes are among the happiest people in the world, but
they're not necessarily the friendliest.
Lars AP, author of "F***ing Flink" and founder of the
movement of the same name, wants to change that.
So F***ing Flink is a national movement.
Our prime goal is to take Danes that are among the happiest
people in the world, but also being the friendliest people
in the world. Why are we doing this?
Well, because friendliness and positive human interaction
means so much to us. Science shows us that.
And so we're trying to do that in all sectors, in all
realms that we can think of.
Finland and Denmark both have populations of less than 6
million people. The U.S.
has over 330 million people.
The Nordic countries are pretty homogeneous, too.
Do population size and diversity affect happiness?
A lot of countries with relatively homogeneous populations,
similarities among people ethnically or in terms of
religion and so on, are not very happy.
So it's no guarantee.
And on the other hand, it's possible to have a lot of
diversity and more happiness.
Our northern neighbor in the United States, Canada, ranks
higher. Yeah, I think Finland is probably one of the most
homogenous countries in Europe.
Still, we have recently had quite a lot of immigration.
But I would say that still it is fairly homogenous.
I think it's funny because I kind of always, I guess,
assumed that Danish society was kind of diverse.
But then we went to see Dave Chappelle's show here in
Copenhagen and both him and the guy who he had with him as
support kind of opened their show saying, "Denmark is so
white." And I never really thought about that before.
But then, ever since that show, I just think about it all
the time. We've been having immigration for hundreds of
years from all over Europe.
I mean, in the 70s, we had a lot of people from Turkey
coming up, from from Vietnam.
And we had people from Yugoslavia in the 90s.
And Denmark has remained happy throughout that period.
The 2018 World Happiness Report explores happiness among
natives and immigrants.
It shows that when immigrants are happy, the countries are,
too. But if the country is already happy, new immigrants
will experience increased happiness.
It shouldn't undermine happiness in the Nordic countries
that there are influx of people born abroad.
There's also a dark side to happiness.
Like in Denmark, one of the biggest epidemics right now is
stress and people being sick with stress and having to
leave their jobs.
And people outside of Denmark didn't really understand what
that meant, like, "What do you mean stress leave?"
But it might be that expectation to have a work-life
balance here that stresses people out.
That you both have to work, but you also have to take care
of your family. You also have to be social with your
friends. You also have to, you know, do this
self-realization thing, hobbies and traveling.
And there's so much you have to do in the same amount of
hours, whereas maybe in New York or other places, you know
that you're going to work to 10 every day so you don't
expect to have the same balance, you know?
It can be hard for outsiders to break into the Nordic
cultures. The Danes have such tight-knit friend and family
groups. It's not very natural for them to just include
people, new people into their groups.
It is a little harder to come in from the outside to sort
of become part of that group.
We've had some great Danish friends, some met at work, but
it is harder, I think, from that on that side, compared to
the UK and the U.S. in terms of developing friendships.
There can be serious side effects to maintaining high
levels of happiness.
Within the states, if you look at the level of life
satisfaction, the higher the life satisfaction actually
also the slightly higher the level of suicide rates.
And the theory here is that it might be more difficult to
be unhappy in an otherwise happy society because it creates
a stronger contrast to how you are feeling if you are
surrounded by very happy people.
So Denmark actually used to have really high suicide rates.
So in 1980, we had suicide rates of around 40 per 100,000,
which was I think some of the highest in the world.
Now, fortunately, it's around 25% of that, so it's around
10 per 100,000.
South Korea and Lithuania have some of the highest suicide
rates in the OECD as of 2017.
So fortunately, suicide rates have been reduced a lot in
Denmark. And also in Finland, there's also been a great
reduction over the past two decades.
But still, it's not zero.
So we still need to reduce that even further.
Despite mental health challenges, a big part of Finnish
culture focuses on overall well-being.
Sauna is a sacred thing for Finns.
I have like so many good memories about having these sauna
moments with my family.
Sauna is something that I suppose you kind of have to like
and love as a Finn.
As of 2018, there were 5.5
million people living in Finland and around 2.3
million saunas.
My grandmother always used to tell us kids that we can't
fight in the sauna because then we would risk angering the
sauna elf. And there's even even a sauna in the government
of Finland, where they say that they make some of the most
important political compromises because you're culturally
not allowed to fight in the sauna.
Danes have mastered the art of comfort and coziness through
hygge. I think the best short definition of what hygge is
the art of creating a nice atmosphere.
And of course, that is something that happens everywhere.
But what is uniquely Danish is we have a word that
describes that situation.
You can curl up in a couch and read a good book and have
good music on and just be in a hyggekrog, it actually means
a hygge corner of your room.
There's a social component to hygge which I think is really
important. Hygge seeps everywhere throughout the country,
from cozy drinks to warm lighting.
So one concrete manifestation of hygge is the focus on
lighting. The rule of thumb is the warmer, the light, the
more hyggelig the lights.
So Danes love candles.
So how does hygge contribute to happiness?
So happiness is both having a strong sense of purpose in
life. It's also experiencing moments of pleasure on a daily
basis. It's also feeling satisfied with life overall.
So, hygge, is this element in our daily lives where we
experience comfort and pleasure and togetherness and
hopefully over time that accumulates also to a higher sense
of life satisfaction.
Another way Denmark and Finland support their citizens?
Paid annual vacation.
So in all Nordic countries, everybody has a right to paid
annual vacation. It varies a little by country, but in
Finland, for example, it's typically, after you work one
year for the same employer, it's four weeks in the summer
and one week in the winter and everybody gets this.
I actually heard a statistic.
It's something like, when Americans go home after work
October 27, you guys have worked as much as Danes will work
for the entire year.
But I actually think that taking a little more time off
also makes you a lot more productive.
In Finland, it's traditional to spend the summer in a
summer cottage or mökki.
We did have a summer house was when I was little.
It was something that my grandfather built himself during
the 60s I think.
And we used to go ther like all the time when I was small.
A week doesn't go past during the summer when I'm not
thinking like, "Oh, I wish we still had it."
Traditionally, the mökkis wouldn't have necessarily
electricity or running water.
And usually, most mökkis come with a lake or the Baltic
Sea. You can go to your sauna and have a dip in the water.
So in a Nordic country, the vacation time also serves
families that if the parents stagger their vacations a bit,
they can handle much easier the summer vacations for their
children. And of course, then the family can spend time
together. Maybe Finnish happiness is more like inside, you
know. It's like inner peace, or something like that.
It's not so open.
It's like balance.
It's more balanced, I think.
So, ready!
Ultimately, happiness is relative.
If you think you are having more sex than your neighbor,
then you're happier. We are social beings.
We compare ourselves to each other.
So there are social comparisons in salary in terms of the
houses and how successful we believe we are, but also in
terms of sex. So what's one small way we can be happier
today? For me, something that I've done which has made me
happier is exercise.
I think the saying no, or being a tiny bit more selfish can
make you happy. One step to improve your sense of happiness
is go first.
You're walking down the street, someone else comes walking
towards you. It might be just a smile.
It might be just looking the other person in the eye,
whatever it is. But go first with that, because you can't
expect that the other person is gonna do it.
Don't be reactive, go first.
In Denmark, we sometimes talk about the ABC for mental
health. If you want to boost your mood, three sort of
universal tips is doing something active, doing something
together with other people and doing something meaningful.
So, gather a group of friends, go for a walk.
That could be something that could boost your mood.
Predicting the future on this is very difficult,
unfortunately. Where will the U.S.
be? It could be even worse than now.
It could be much better than now.
It's a matter of actually making choices for a better
direction for the country and one that is not guided by
fear and hate, but one that is guided by a sense of
community and the common good.
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Why Finland And Denmark Are Happier Than The U.S.

1918 Folder Collection
Courtney Shih published on January 17, 2020
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