Dark, cold – yet happy?

27 August 2010 | This 'n' that

In the fields of education, health, quality of life, economic dynamism and political environment, the best country in the world is… Finland.

According to the American Newsweek magazine (August 15), Finland is now the best place to live – if you appreciate the factors of life mentioned above. On the list of a hundred  countries, Switzerland and Sweden were numbers two and three.

The highest marks went to education. Finland’s school system has gained praise in recent years; in the OECD’s 2006 exams in science and reading, known as PISA tests, Finnish pupils scored the highest average results in the developed world, and they also came second in maths (beaten only by teenagers in South Korea). The story made  BBC News Headlines last spring.

Newsweek went on (August 16) by asking ‘Why cold, dark, small and depressive nations top the rankings’: the writer of this article, Andrei Codrescu, took up a few of the old clichés looking at what these cold, dark, small nations eat, assuming that ‘the smorgasbord itself must be an attempt to offset tedium, angst and monochromatism’.

Also, according to this article, quality of life ‘improves immensely when one must get as close to one’s beloved as possible to fend off the chill’, and the political environment is better as nobody wants to fight in the streets because it’s too cold – and, the writer continues, too bad the United States has written ‘the pursuit of happiness’ into its founding document, ‘thus guaranteeing that we’ll never be satisfied’.

Fortunately there are also other means to fight monochromatism in Finland than just the enjoyment of the smorgasbord (a Swedish word and concept…). And while we’re on the subject of Finnish food, the Financial Times (August 16) informed the world about the eating habits of the Moomins in an article entitled ‘Moomin marvellous’, as The Moomins Cookbook: An Introduction to Finnish Cuisine, with illustrations by the creator of the Moomins, Tove Jansson, was published in England. The Financial Times also offers three recipes from the Moomins’ cookbook for the reader to try out.

In a survey, entitled ‘No man is an Island’, conducted by the University of Cambridge in 2007, it turned out the happiest people in Europe were the Danes, and next came the Finns – people in the sunny southern countries of Italy, Portugal and Greece got the least joy out of life. The survey revealed that people in countries where they enjoy time with friends and family and have trust in government and national institutions were more likely to be happy than those who just happen to live in a sunny climate.

We (too) wonder whether it is possible to define accurately an ideal formula for well-being. But indeed, no man is an island, for as the 17th-century poet John Donne put it; ‘every man is a piece of the Continent’. Finns commented on the Newsweek results by confirming that they agree on the positive impact of things like reliable governmental and national institutions, a safe living environment, welfare state structures such as school systems and health services – and at the same time many expressed their serious concern as regards the vulnerability of these same structures (such as education and health services) in the future, as the ideology of the short-term market economy now tends to penetrate and affect society here, too.

Better slightly depressive in the dark than unhappy in the sunshine?

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