After spending Christmas in the winter wonderland that is Finland, I was heartbroken to return to the mess of the UK. The short time I spent there made me fall in love with the landscapes, the people and the way of life. It’s no real wonder that Finland has been named the happiest country globally for four years running.
You may not think that the northern country would be an obvious choice for such a title, with its cold climate and six months of darkness and winter. However, Finns don’t let the rain, snow, or cold winds get in the way of living a happy life and keeping active. The main categories from the report that determined the overall happiness of a country were Gross Domestic Product, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perception of corruption levels. The report showed Finns scoring high points in all areas for the fourth year in a row.
It’s not hard to see why Finland has claimed the top spot; the egalitarian society has beautiful landscapes, a relaxed way of life, and low crime levels due to citizens trusting each other. It also boasts one of the most outstanding education systems globally. It rarely tests its students and actively cares about their wellbeing, leading to more opportunities for young people within the country.
Free Education and Universal Healthcare System
Since the 1970s, Finland has significantly reformed its education system and is currently ranked number three worldwide in education. All education in the country is free, with uniforms, meals, transport, and school materials provided in all compulsory education. All teachers must have a Masters as the government relies on highly competent teachers. The children don’t start proper education until they are seven years old. Their formative years are used to play, explore and develop their wellbeing. The children don’t start school until between 9 am-9:45 am, as studies have shown that a later start time gives children’s brains a chance to wake up. Schools rarely test students via exams due to the high pressure put on the children; instead, they leave it up to teachers to create a grading outline.
Ms Irmeli Halinen, the head of curriculum development with the Finnish National Board of Education, affirmed in 2014, “We are often asked why improve the system that has been ranked as top quality in the world.
But the answer is, because the world is changing. We have to think and rethink everything connected to school. We also have to understand that competencies needed in society and in working life have changed.”
Not only is education free, but Finland also has a universal healthcare system that looks after all its citizens. This means that no matter someone’s income level, they will still receive the best care possible. The same goes for education.
Finland was the first country to grant women the right to vote in 1906; since then, they have pursued equality for all citizens. All women and men have the same rights, LGBTQ+ rights are respected, workers have rights set out, and the egalitarian style of government allows everyone a chance at success. The gap between classes is relatively slight, with the country having a large middle class and not a lot of poverty.
Finland’s current Prime Minister, Sanna Marin, is a woman and, when she was elected in 2019, was the youngest world leader at the age of 34. She noted that although Finland has taken great strides, she “wanted to do better when it comes to equality”.
She also said: “The biggest issue, of course, is that they have built a welfare society in Finland: that people like me, coming from quite a modest background, have had the opportunities in life to go to study, to go to university, to have a chance in life to make their own future.
So I think all the decisions, the hard work that people before me have done to build our society is important – the real work to be done now is to make sure that we continue to promote equal opportunities.”
Landscape and Nature
The idyllic winter landscape in Finland makes it feel like stepping into a fairytale. Extensive forests of trees covered by snow, crystal clear lakes and ponds (many frozen over in the winter months), and beautiful architecture in cities such as Helsinki. The country has a large selection of wildlife ranging from bears to reindeer. The north of Finland enters the arctic circle and is home to Lapland; this is also where Santa is said to live.
The lack of air pollution is evident in the crisp, clean air. The cold may be eased by the staple of a sauna in most Finnish homes. This warms people up and provides them with a place to relax after a long day. Many sports keep people active such as Ice Hockey, ‘salibandy’ or floorball/hockey in English, skiing, snowboarding, football and figure skating.
Overall, Finland is a beautiful country, it has a fantastic culture and the government in control are doing all they can to make it even better. It’s no wonder they have been crowned the happiest country in the world, let’s hope they can keep the title for another year.
Featured image credit: Wikipedia