According to the World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country for the fifth year in a row. Its score is much higher than that of any other country in the top ten. Denmark stays in second place. Iceland, which was in fourth place last year, moved up to third place this year. The Netherlands and Luxembourg come after Switzerland on the list. Sweden, Norway, Israel, and New Zealand comprise the rest of the top ten. The following five are Austria, Australia, Ireland, Germany, and Canada. In the first World Happiness Report, Canada was in fifth place. This is a significant drop. The United States is 16th, which is up from 19th last year. The United Kingdom and Czechia are still 17th and 18th, Belgium is 19th, and France is 20th, its highest ranking yet.
What’s the World Happiness Report, you ask?
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global project of the United Nations, put out the annual World Happiness Report. It ranks countries’ happiness “based on life evaluations as the more stable measure of the quality of people’s lives.” The report measures happiness based on three factors: life evaluations, positive emotions, and negative emotions, with a focus on daily emotions.
The report is based on data from the Gallup World Poll. People who took the poll were asked to rate their lives on a scale from 10 to 0, with ten being the best and 0 being the worst.
The study graphs the average life evaluation per country. It explains the results through six factors: dystopia, perceptions of corruption, generosity, freedom to make life changes, life expectancy, social support, and per capita GDP.
What makes Finland recognized as the happiest country in the world?
Various organizations have named Finland the most stable, the freest, and the safest. These may be understandable, but what do the locals have to celebrate in a country where temperatures regularly hover around -20°C and large portions of the year see little to no sunlight? Why not Canada?
One of the main reasons for Finland’s happiness is its intense social support systems. Finland’s strong welfare state provides a safety net for all citizens, regardless of income or social status. This includes universal healthcare, free education, and generous social benefits like parental leave and unemployment benefits. This safety net creates a sense of security for the citizens of Finland. It allows them to focus on their personal lives and happiness without worrying about their basic needs being met.
In addition to the robust social support systems, Finland is also known for its high levels of trust and equality. Finland is a highly egalitarian society with low levels of corruption. Citizens have high levels of confidence in their government and institutions and a strong sense of social cohesion. Over eighty percent of Finns believe in the nation’s police, education, and healthcare systems. This social cohesion contributes to the feeling of community among the Finnish people, which is supposed to be an essential factor in their happiness.
Another critical factor in Finland’s happiness is the emphasis on work-life balance. Finnish workers have an excellent work-life balance, with shorter working hours, more vacation time, and a culture that values family time and leisure activities. This gives workers a better quality of life and increases overall happiness.
Finland’s connection to nature is another important factor in its happiness. Finland is known for its beautiful natural environment, which provides a source of calm and relaxation for many Finns. The country has a strong tradition of spending time outdoors, which is believed to contribute to a sense of well-being. This connection to nature is seen as an essential part of Finnish culture and is reflected in the country’s policies and practices.
So where is Canada standing?
According to the 10th annual World Happiness Report using the data from 2019-2021, published in 2022, Canada was ranked 15th on the list of the world’s happiest countries – a significant drop from previous years, but we still beat the United States!
In recent years, Canada has consistently been ranked as one of the world’s top 10 happiest nations. This year, however, Canada reached its all-time low BUT still one position higher than the United States, so we won that horse race. (Phew!)
Fifteenth in the world is pretty good though. Still, being 15th in the world is pretty good right?. Not according to researchers at the University of Toronto who study the happiness of populations. They looked at the numbers more closely and wrote the Canadian Happiness Report.
“Many people are happy with being in the top 20, and we’re used to being there,” says Sofia Panasiuk, a psychology student at the University of Toronto leading the Canadian Happiness Report. “But if you’re looking at trends rather than absolute ranking, our ‘life satisfaction’ has been decreasing over the past ten years compared to other countries that are going in the right direction.”
Canada was No. 5 in 2010, Panasiuk notes, so we’re trending downward. Worse still, she stated that she was “shocked” to learn that Canada ranked 106th out of 146 countries on the “changing life satisfaction” metric. So, fewer Canadians than people in other countries think their lives are improving.
Our first thought might be to blame COVID-19 for our drop-in happiness since the pandemic has been stressful and made it harder to do some of the things that make us happy. Felix Cheung, a psychology professor at U of T and holder of the Canada Research Chair in Population Well-Being, says we can’t put all of the blame on COVID.
“If you look purely at the period of the pandemic, you can see that life satisfaction has dropped 0.2 percent, which is still significant but very small,” said Cheung. “We can see from our report that this is a negative trend that began before COVID, so while we appreciate that the pandemic has placed mental health and well-being on the centre stage, it looks like recovering from the pandemic will not solve this problem alone.”
According to Panasiuk, one’s level of happiness can be affected by various factors, including genetics, the environment, and the actions that an individual takes to improve their happiness, such as going for a walk or spending time with a friend.
“There are a bunch of different strategies, like gratitude journals, for example, that have been shown to increase our well-being a little bit,” she said. “And with the advent of the culture of self-help and self-care, we might expect happiness to be increasing, but, instead, we’re seeing that trend going in the opposite direction.”
“The rise of social sciences and psychological sciences over the last 150 years has seen us move towards the quantification and the measurement of things that are fundamentally difficult to measure, like happiness,” says Kevin O’Neill, a professor of religion and the director of the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto. “Happiness isn’t an element like water that can be weighed or assessed in terms of density or volume. It’s pretty ephemeral.”
“There is this North American impulse towards abundance, which can apply to anything, including happiness,” said O’Neill. “There’s this idea that there’s no ceiling to the amount of happiness that we can attain. And that kind of expectation sets us up for wondering why we aren’t happier or asking questions like, ‘Why am I not as happy as I was yesterday?’”
And, of course, a brand-new question we might not have thought of before this report, namely, “Would I be happier if I moved to Finland?”
Probably not. It might be trite, but the saying “comparing yourself to others is the thief of joy” is a cliché for a reason.
Comparing Finland and Canada
One of the main reasons for Finland’s happiness is its strong social support systems. As mentioned, Finland’s strong welfare state provides universal healthcare, free education, and generous social benefits, such as parental leave and unemployment benefits. In contrast, Canada’s social welfare system is not as comprehensive as Finland’s, and many Canadians still lack access to healthcare, affordable housing, and other basic needs. (Fun fact: Canada is one of the top 15 most affordable countries to buy a home. Shocking, right?) .While Canada does have social programs in place to help those in need, they are less comprehensive than Finland’s, which may contribute to the lower happiness rankings in Canada.
Another reason for Finland’s happiness is its high levels of trust and equality. Finland is a highly egalitarian society with low levels of corruption, and citizens have high confidence in their government and institutions. In comparison, Canada’s trust in government and institutions has declined in recent years, and there are concerns about corruption and inequality in Canadian society. This lack of confidence and perceived imbalance may contribute to lower happiness levels in Canada.
Regarding work-life balance, Finland is known for its emphasis on leisure time and family time, with shorter working hours and more vacation time than in many other countries. In contrast, Canadians often work long hours and have limited vacation time, which may contribute to feelings of stress and burnout. While some Canadians can access flexible work arrangements and parental leave, these benefits are less widespread than in Finland.
Finally, Finland’s connection to nature is another important factor in its happiness. Finland is known for its beautiful natural environment, which provides a source of calm and relaxation for many Finns. The country has a strong tradition of spending time outdoors, which is believed to contribute to well-being. Canada’s natural environment is also stunning, but many Canadians live in urban areas and may need more access to nature. This lack of connection to nature may contribute to lower happiness levels in Canada.
In conclusion, Finland’s high happiness levels can be attributed to social, economic, and cultural factors, including robust social support systems, high levels of trust and equality, emphasis on work-life balance, and connection to nature. While Canada shares some of these factors, there are still areas where Canada falls short, such as its social welfare system and work-life balance. While Canada is still a great place to live, the success of Finland in promoting happiness may provide a model for Canada and other countries to follow. By investing in social welfare programs, promoting equality, and emphasizing the importance of leisure time and nature, Canada may improve its ranking in happiness reports and create a happier society for all its citizens.