The Grim Secret of Nordic Happiness

For decades Scandinavian countries have been renowned for their educational systems, low levels of corruption, sustainable economy, social justice, overall quality of life. According to Jukka Savolainen on Slate, the reason why Finns have now been dominating the World Happiness Report four years in a row has little to do with these factors and more with their life expectations.

Savolainen perspective is interesting because he is a Finn living in the US. He experienced the Scandinavian system first hand, then moved to a (very) different culture.

The Nordic ethos stands in particularly stark contrast to the American culture characterized by “extreme emphasis upon the accumulation of wealth as a symbol of success,” as observed by the sociologist Robert K. Merton in the 1930s.

In comparing the different lifestyles, he also touches on the social differences. Scandinavian people are not famous for their openness or the quality of their small talk, that’s for sure. I do admire their low-aspirations attitude, which is well described in the article.

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. This mindset explains why Finns are the happiest people in the world despite living in small apartments, earning modest incomes—with even more limited purchasing power thanks to high prices and taxes—and, unlike Iceland, having never even made it to the World Cup!

I have always been fascinated by the North. When I went to Stockholm to present at Pycon Sweden, I fell in love with the city. I was lucky, though. We were in May, and the weather was beautiful all week. Daylight lasted until midnight. To my enthusiasm, the locals objected I should come back in the winter season to really appreciate what living in the North entails. As a Mediterranean guy, I imagine I might soon feel the long for warmer climates and still, the dream of moving North persists.

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