For the third year running, Finland has come top of the World Happiness Report as the world's happiest country. The result might surprise anyone who believes that sunshine is an essential ingredient for happiness: the country sees only 8 hours of daylight during the depths of winter. Even some Finns think they don't deserve the win. So how accurate is the World Happiness Report and what's the secret of Finland's success?
The World Happiness Report considers factors such as life expectancy, individual freedom, average income, the trust people have in government and business sectors, and the level of education and social welfare.
The beautiful Land of the Thousand Lakes is not the only Northern European nation to hold a position in the top rankings of happiest countries: Denmark came second while Norway, Iceland, and the Netherlands also scored highly. But while the Finns enjoy a high per capita income and an outstanding quality of life, they also have high rates of suicide and prescriptions of antidepressant medication.
Northern European people may have relatively high incomes, but stressful workplaces mean they also risk professional exhaustion. If you find yourself feeling unhappy and overwhelmed with negative thoughts, Bach Flower Mix 83 can help to overcome professional exhaustion and bring back your zest for life.
How to define happiness and how to quantify it are two very complex questions. Is joy the result of individual choices, or does it depend on the way society is structured? Many believe that happiness is very subjective, a fleeting emotion we experience individually. But factors such as the higher incomes and social welfare of wealthy countries create a feeling of satisfaction amongst the people and increase society's happiness in general.
The World Happiness Report leans strongly towards a view of happiness as related to material well-being and the way societies are structured. While the categories it surveys are useful in describing the country's levels of satisfaction, they somehow fail to capture how happy people are.
By connecting happiness directly to income and social welfare availability, the World Happiness Report implies that poorer nations' citizens might be unhappy because of their governments' corruption or inefficiency. But many people from developing countries believe that happiness helps them overcome any social problems they might have.
And if you measure happiness in relation to mental health, why should 7 out of 10 countries on the happy list also be in the top 10 for suicide and use of antidepressants? Finland, Norway, and Sweden face more severe mental health issues than all South American and Caribbean countries put together.
Is this because the people of developing countries need fewer material advantages to be happy? Or could it be that they have religious beliefs that provide emotional support and deter suicides? These questions remain unanswered, but it's clear that material benefits alone don't bring happiness.
Of course, income plays a role in happiness. The countries that score highly in the World Happiness Report have a median income more than 25 times greater than the most unhappy ones. But wealth is only significant in so far as it supports the basic requirements for a comfortable life. Once you have enough income to cover the necessities, more riches won't necessarily make you any happier.
Three years ago, Denmark was named the world's happiest country. But Danish researchers agree that wealth is not the only measure of happiness. The Danes are famous for their love of hygge, a convivial, cosy lifestyle where spending quality time with family and friends is what matters.
It all depends on how you define happiness. Northern European people are mostly very satisfied with their lifestyle: they have excellent health care, education, transport and welfare systems. But there are other ways of measuring happiness. Using different variables, Bhutan and Colombia have also been ranked as having the happiest people.
Joy isn't about the big moments in our lives, such as a much-anticipated holiday or special event. Whether it's a beautiful sunrise, coffee with friends, a walk in nature or spending time with your kids, moments of happiness are within our grasp if only we take a moment to appreciate them. It's just a question of changing your focus.
Being happy is a beautiful feeling, but perhaps happiness is too abstract to measure. Maybe we should take reports claiming to know the happiest people in the world with a generous pinch of salt! Whatever country we call home, we should always be mindful of the small moments of contentment that happen every day.
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