What makes a country happy?

Finland was recently named the happiest country in the world in the World Happiness Report for the fifth year running. Its embassy in Washington, D.C. decided to hold a party to celebrate that fact, which is how I came to be standing in front of a poster which quite reasonably claimed to teach me “50 things you don’t know about Finland”.

The Finnish ambassador hypothesised that Finns are happy because they care for one another.Credit:Getty Images

What I don’t know about Finland could fill volumes, and I’ll assume you feel the same way, so here are some things I learnt: Finnish children start school at age seven; Finns are the world’s biggest coffee drinkers; there are more saunas than cars in Finland. If you didn’t think Finland sounded like a nice place to live beforehand, and you weren’t seduced by the gorgeous brutalism of its glass-walled embassy, this information could surely sway you.


The Finnish ambassador stood up to welcome guests at the evening with some dry humour. “We are not the happiest because our largest land border is with Russia,” he said. “Nor are we happy because it can get to minus 50 degrees in winter.” No – he hypothesised that Finns were happy because they cared for one another.

This was evident in the music performed by a Finnish feminist folk quartet called Kardemimmit. The group, whom we were told to think of as an ethno-Spice Girls, sang in a melancholy yet breezy way. They explained that their songs were about lost love and girl power, but neither subject seemed too laboured.

The impression I got, and what I hope to be true, is that these tunes were composed while lounging in a field of daisies – in summer, obviously. I imagined myself listening to them in a Marimekko smock, wafting around a Helsinki loft during month 15 of parental leave.

Tolstoy said all happy families are alike. What I want to know is, does that apply to countries?

The Danes are the world’s second-happiest people, and this, too, was readily explained when I attended an event at the Danish embassy this year. There was a similar kind of serenity evident in the promotional video we watched about the country, in which people rode bikes on cobblestones without wobbling and wore lab goggles in a manner that looked both authentic and stylish.

It’s important to note that the menu at both events featured meatballs, a food also closely associated with Sweden – number seven on the happiness rankings.

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