For the past five years, the World Happiness Report has ranked Finland as the happiest country in the world. Last year’s report showed that people in 156 countries were asked to “value their lives today on a 0 to 10 scale, with the worst possible life as a 0”. It also ana­lysed factors that contribute to social support, life expectancy, generosity and absence of corruption. 

Kenneth Vella, Ambassador of Malta to Estonia and Finland and head of Mater Boni Consilii St Joseph School, Paola, has been collaborating with Finnish entities for over 15 years. Recently, he had the opportunity to discuss these results with one of his friends and colleagues in Finland, Frank Martela.

The latter is a leading philosopher and psychologist and also a researcher on the fundamentals of happiness. Martela is also a lecturer at Aalto University, in Finland and the author of A Wonderful Life: Insights on Finding a Meaningful Existence.

During one of his recent conversations, Vella asked Martela about the secrets that make the Finnish people so satisfied with their lives. But, instead of divulging these secrets, Martela mentioned three things Finns do in order to maintain a high quality of life. 

Do not compare yourself with your neighbours

“First of all, we do not compare ourselves to our neighbours.  In this aspect,  I always refer to the verses by one of our leading poets which says: ‘Kell’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköön.’ In other words, ‘Don’t compare or brag about your happiness’,” Martela said.

“I assure you that Finns really believe in this, especially when it comes to material things, materialism, money and wealth. For example, I once ran into one of the richest men in Finland, pushing his toddler in a stroller towards the tram station.

“I thought he could have bought himself an expensive car or hire a driver but he opted for public transportation.”

One should focus more on what makes them happy and less on looking successful

The Finnish philosopher and psychologist added that this man showed he wants to be treated just like everyone else. He suggested that one should focus more on what makes one happy and less on looking successful.

The first step to true happiness is to set our own standards, instead of comparing ourselves to others, Martela reiterated.

Be aware of the benefits of nature

Martela also reminded Vella that, according to a survey carried out two years ago, 87 per cent of Finns feel that nature is important to them because it provides them with peace of mind, energy and relaxation. 

“In Finland, and in summer, employees are entitled to four weeks of holidays. Many of us use that time to live in the countryside and immerse ourselves in nature. Sometimes, we even stay in country houses without electricity or running water. Similar to other major European countries, a lot of Finnish cities are also densely built, however, many people in these cities still have access to nature at their doorsteps,” noted Martela, who himself lives next to Helsinki Central Park, where he goes on regular walks and practises cross-country skiing in winter.

He stressed that spending time in nature increases one’s vitality, improves mental well-being and helps one to grow personally.

“We should all find ways to add some greenery to our life, even if it’s just buying a few plants for our home,” he suggested.

Honesty and trust

Various international research studies have confirmed that the higher the levels of trust within a country, the happier its citizens would be.

For example, an experiment was carried out last year to test the honesty of people. Referred to as ‘the one of the lost wallet’, the experiment saw 192 wallets dropped in 16 cities around the world. In Helsinki, 11 out of 12 wallets were returned to their owner. 

“Finnish people tend to trust each other and value honesty. If you forget your laptop in a library or lose your phone on the train, tram or bus, you can be quite confident you’ll get it back. Kids also often take a public bus home from school or they go to school on foot or play outside without supervision. This is because we are still considered a safe country,” Martela pointed out.

“I suggest you and your fellow citizens do think about how they can support their community. How could you bring about and create more trust? How could you support policies that build upon that trust? Small acts like opening doors for strangers or giving up a seat on the bus make a difference, too.”

Martela and Vella are planning to organise a seminar in Malta later this year, focusing on Martela’s publication and research. More information will be provided in the coming weeks. 

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