Press release – for immediate release

Finland became the first in happiness rankings, but does it really mean that the Finns are happy?

The World Happiness Report, made public yesterday, ranks Finland the first on its list of happiness. This strongly indicates of the fact that things are well in Finland, but unfortunately, it hardly tells us about the happiness of the Finns. Happiness is a subjective experience, which outward matters do not necessarily have any influence on.

The latest World Happiness Report has again ranked the countries according to their happiness, and this time Finland is the first. As a Finn I am overjoyed and, in the real spirit of the team, extremely proud of my country, whose value I have not realized until living abroad. As a scholar of happiness, this does not make me rejoice, however.

Finland is a fine country and many things are really good there. Also the report brings these things forth. However, this does not indicate that Finns would necessarily be happy, or that they even should be.
The standards used mainly focus on social welfare, which is not the same as the happiness of the citizens.
In other words: even if the state was doing well, her people would not necessarily be happy. Besides, is it really true that outward matters create happiness? Is happiness not a subjective or an individual experience?

What is happiness composed of?

If we examine some of the matters ranked in the report, we will be able to question whether they are real indicators of happiness.

The Social Support Indicator is based on the question whether a person has someone in whose support he can lean on in difficult times. Does a positive answer to the question automatically tell us that the person is happy? What about sharing happy moments or everyday life, why are these not asked about?

The Freedom Indicator is based on the question how satisfied or dissatisfied a person is with his freedom to influence how to conduct his own life. How satisfied or dissatisfied we are is an estimation based on our expectations and their fulfilment. This does not necessarily lead to happiness. The indicator in this question is also very western and egocentric.

The Generosity Indicator asks if a person has donated money to charity last month. Does this then have a direct connection with our happiness? The attention is also attracted to the fact that only giving money is being surveyed, but not deeds, voluntary work or encouraging words.

Besides these three indicators, the ranking is based on GDP, the life span expectation, as well as the corruption of the government and the business world. So it seems that somebody somewhere has decided for us that these things together should make an individual happy. However, there is no clear causal evidence of any of these creating happiness.

Other indicators

Who decides what happiness should be composed of? What would the Top 10 look like if we observed the following things in the Happiness Report instead:

-How safe do you feel?
-How often do you laugh?
-Do you have dreams and goals?
-How meaningful do you see yourself and your life?
-How beloved do you feel?
-How much time do you spend in nature and in the sun?
-On how many days a year do you NOT take any medication?
-Do you have enough money for such a standard of living that makes you happy?

These are also matters that can have positive impact on happiness according to research. These are also the questions that could be chosen to measure happiness. However, when using these questions we would not get a certain knowledge of how happy people really are. We would only get answers to these questions, without the information on the fact why and how these matters affect our happiness. Of course, they would add to the knowledge on mental and social abilities, which, concerned in the matter, might also have influence on happiness, as the anthropologist of happiness, Neil Thin, also emphasizes. I am also aware of the fact that the questions I listed are shaped by the western style of living and happiness studies which are strongly western as well. Neither would I rank the countries of the world on their ground.

On the other hand, when considering depression medication, anxiety, stress, burnout and suicide to be the indicators of an unhappy country, how likely would we find the top countries of the Happiness Report on the top of this list, too?

The report highlights the importance of happiness

I would like to emphasize that the World Happiness Report is an important report, being excellently written. It brings up current trends and emphasizes the significance of happiness in society. The writers are appreciated scholars of happiness, and their work is important to promote happiness. My criticism is directed to placing the countries in the ranking order, to using the indicators chosen narrowly, to defining happiness in measures and numbers, as well as simplifying happiness. How do we really benefit from these rankings? I wish to highlight that, in every country, we need discussion, listening and willingness to understand, in order to really perceive what makes people in each country and society happy.

It is great that happiness has become such a visible issue and risen in the rank to the priority lists of governments. So, let us Finns bask in the spotlight of the world for a while and be proud of the fact that many things have been taken care of so well. Let’s take advantage of this in marketing and then continue our discussion on the real happiness of the Finns, and what things have influence on it.

Further information

Ilona Suojanen