What Makes a Happy Country?

By: Jenny Gross and Johanna Lemola

April 20, 2021

When governments around the world introduced coronavirus restrictions requiring people to stand two meters apart, jokes in Finland started circulating: “Why can’t we stick to the usual four meters?”

Finns embrace depictions of themselves as melancholic and reserved — a people who mastered social distancing long before the pandemic. A popular local saying goes, “Happiness will always end in tears.”

But for four consecutive years, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which publishes an annual report evaluating the happiness of people around the world.

The latest report, published last month, has led some Finns to ask: Really?

“Four times in a row is too much,” said Jukka Lindstrom, a writer and standup comedian. The weather is “like the worst day in London, every day,” he said. “There’s definitely something in our history that makes us have this kind of low self-esteem as a nation, always feeling like an underdog.”

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The World Happiness Report uses data from interviews of more than 350,000 people in 95 countries, conducted by the polling company Gallup. The rankings are not based on factors like income or life expectancy, but on how people rate their own happiness on a 10-point scale.

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