4 things Finnish people do that make them the happiest in the world

Here is what reliable sources say is supporting Finnish (and more generally, Nordic) contentment.

A woman passes a city sign in Helsinki, Finland
Martin Meissner / AP

For the fifth consecutive year, Finland was named the top-ranked country for happiness by the World Happiness Report.

The report, which was in its 10th year in 2022, is published by the United Nations' Sustainable Development Solutions Network, and data is collected from more than 150 countries by Gallup World Poll. At least a thousand people per country were asked on a scale of one out of 10 how happy they were overall, where they'd place themselves on a 10-run ladder of life.

Finland's average was 7.821. It's interesting to note that fellow Nordic countries have consistently been in the top five to top 10 ranks of the World Happiness Report. In 2022, Denmark and Iceland placed second and third, with The Netherlands in fifth and Sweden and Norway in seventh and eighth place. The U.S. came in 16th place with a score of 6.977.

So what is it that makes Finnish people the happiest in the world? When these happiness rankings appear every year, some people argue that Nordic concepts like being cozy (the Danish idea behind hygge), relaxing at home with a drink and comfy clothes (the Finnish kalsarikännit is often anglicized as "pantsdrunk") and taking long nature walks will help you become happy.

But digging deeper, here is what reliable sources say is supporting Finnish (and more generally, Nordic) contentment.

They Appreciate What They Have

First off, many sources say that while Finnish people may come across as reserved and not bubbling over with big smiles and effusiveness, they have a widespread sense of being happy with what they have.

"Nordic people, and the Finns in particular, are emotionally introverted," Meik Wiking, Denmark's Happiness Research Institute CEO, told the BBC. "They rarely rank highly on expressions of joy or anger – they are very different in that way from people from Latin America, for example, who have a more exuberant emotional expression as a people. For [the Finns], happiness is more about living a reserved, balanced and resilient life.”

Finns have "reasonable expectations," Finnish sociologist Jukka Savolainen wrote for Slate.

"The Nordic countries provide decent lives for their citizens and prevent them from experiencing sustained periods of material hardship," Savolainen wrote. "Moreover, they embrace a cultural orientation that sets realistic limits to one’s expectations for a good life ... People are socialized to believe that what they have is as good as it gets — or close enough."

Balance and harmony are being incorporated more into the World Happiness Report's research, too.

"Happiness research in the West has tended to ignore important positive emotions which involve low arousal – such as calm, peace, and harmony," the WHR says. "Recent research shows how significant these emotions contribute to overall life satisfaction."

There's also the Finnish idea of sisu — persistence even when things are tough. When things are difficult, according to this idea, Finns tend to not take a "woe is me" attitude but rather push through.

They Don't Compare

The Finnish idea of being happy with what you have seems to go hand in hand with the Finnish propensity to not brag about one's status or compare yourself to others.

"The Finnish tendency to downplay one’s own happiness and the norm against too much public display of joy might actually make Finns happier," Finnish psychology and philosophy researcher Frank Martela argued in a 2018 Scientific American opinion piece.

"This is because social comparison seems to play a significant role in people’s life satisfaction," he wrote. "If everybody else is doing better than you, it is hard to be satisfied with your life conditions, no matter how good they objectively are.

Finland is also a fairly equitable society (see more below). When Finland topped the World Happiness Report's list for the fourth time, in 2021, the Helsinki Times wrote that equality "translates into opportunities for everyone no matter what socio-economical background they are from."

"Finland has a very large middle class, and very little poverty," the Times wrote. "The rich in Finland have also traditionally been shy in showing of their wealth. The wealthiest people in Finland may drive an old Volvo or at most a bit more expensive Mercedes, but rarely a Lamborghini. Even the poorest people would get the best education and health care, and no one needs to be homeless."

They Trust In Each Other

When things are fairer between all, a higher level of trust can exist, experts argue.

"Trust is one of the cornerstones of the Nordic communities: people in the Nordic region report significantly higher levels of trust than in the rest of the world," a 2018 Nordic Council of Ministers Report on happiness and unhappiness concludes. "Trust is crucial to society’s cohesion, and also seems to have a significant positive impact on our socio-economics."

The high rate of trust between Finns means that people don't worry about getting a lost wallet back, for example. A Reader's Digest test showed that Helsinki had the highest rate of return out of the 16 cities where the publication "lost" wallets to test honesty; 11 out of 12 were returned.

Writing for CNBC, Finnish psychology expert Martela said trust was a big factor in Finland's happiness factor. He pointed out that kids ride buses alone and play outside by themselves without worry. Lost laptops or phones are likely to be returned as well.

They Live In A Positive Welfare State

Finland's government and tax system are well known for supporting the Finnish people from cradle to grave. Every new mom gets a box of items for her baby; there is generous parental leave for both moms and dads; and residents enjoy an excellent school system, free healthcare, at least 24 vacation days a year and a well-funded pension system.

While Finland's taxes are higher to support these welfare programs, citizens report that they generally believe those taxes are well used. Wealthier citizens are taxed at higher rates, and social programs are offered to all, whether you are better off or less wealthy.

"Nordic countries tend to have a flatter structure in their society, less inequality and a better capacity to help the disadvantaged," World Happiness Report co-editor John Helliwell, of the University of British Columbia, told the BBC. "All of these things would make them score higher on a test which asks them to rank their quality of life."

Of course, no country is perfect. And articles looking at Finnish happiness also include those talking about racial microaggressions and profiling, and Finnish studies of the smaller number of Finns reporting that they are struggling or suffering. The "pantsdrunk" phenomenon even has a dark side: Finns can drink a lot, and government data showed that most homicides in the country were connected with drinking.

"It’s probably more accurate to say that the Finns are the least unhappy people in the world," Happiness Institute CEO Wiking told the BBC. "They always do well at reducing the causes of unhappiness."