- 1 I spoke to Yukio Uchida, who wrote that the measuring of happiness should take into account cultural differences. What are the cultural elements that, would you say, defines Finnish happiness?
- 2 Has the idea of happiness changed in the past decades?
- 3 How is it different from other Western countries? And other Scandinavian countries. Can you give an example, maybe by how you yourself (have) experience(d) it?
- 4 Can you explain to me the idea of talkoo in relation to the idea of happiness in Finland?
- 5 I read that Finnish society is not as hierarchical, the gaps between social classes are smaller than in other countries – how does that again affect happiness?
- 6 Finland is among the most stable, safest and best governed countries in the world. Yet “unemployment [is] at 8% and a populist, nationalist party [is] garnering up to 20% of the vote” and has been seen as the country with the highest suicide rates – something that sounds quite far from the happiest country in the world. How can you explain that?
- 7 The Guardian quotes that “America’s subjective wellbeing is being systematically undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases, notably obesity, substance abuse (especially opioid addiction) and depression[.]” Does Finland have these kind of problems, and how does it deal with it?
- 8 What are the biggest lessons that other societies can take from the Finnish idea of happiness?
- 9 You say somewhere that your public schools do not contribute to class differences – how do they do that?
- 10 Also, why are class differences in Finland not as wide as in many other countries?
Hollantilaisen KRO-NCRV -kanavan verkkolehti Brandpundt Plus julkaisi 02. pvä toukokuuta 2018 Markun kanssa englanniksi käydyn, hollanniksi käännetyn haastattelun. Pete Wun ja Hannah Vischerin “Dit kunnen we van het gelukkigste land ter wereld leren over levensvreugde” voi lukea hollanniksi heidän sivuiltaan.
Hollantia taitamattomille julkaisemme alla kysymykset ja niiden vastaukset myös englannin kielellä:
I spoke to Yukio Uchida, who wrote that the measuring of happiness should take into account cultural differences. What are the cultural elements that, would you say, defines Finnish happiness?
Though Finland is an individualistic country, industrialization began here later than in other Nordic countries. Finland was an agrarian country until the 1960’s, and carried traditional values that emphasized “home, religion, and country”. Thus happiness was either luck, providence, or the privileges of the wealthy. One of our greatest poets, Eino Leino (1878 – 1926), has played into the hearts of the older generations:
A Song of Joy
Whom joy possess, they ought their joys conceal,
Whom treasure have, they ought their treasures shield,
and be merry of the mirth of all their own
and enrich’d by these riches all alone.
No joy can ever suffer others’ gander.
Whom joy possess, to wilderness ought wander
and ought to live a-quiet, quiet living
and their happiness enjoyed quieted within.
Leino, Eino. ”Laulu onnesta”. In Hiihtäjän virsiä. 1900. Translated by Martti Ojanen.
Although times are changing, and Finns are reading books and articles on happiness, having past ideas remains common:
- Happiness belongs to fairy tales, songs, and poems, and not to real life
- Don’t talk about your personal happiness
- Finns cannot be happy
- Take life as it comes
Has the idea of happiness changed in the past decades?
There have been many changes. At first, happiness barely dared to take a peek from the closet; now it can open the door, and step into the daylight. In a study of mine, the majority of Finns thought that we can increase our happiness. (Those who had this opinion were happier than those who doubted it.)
However, I wonder how seriously happiness is generally being taken into account. Obviously people do read about happiness, but do these stories have any influence on their lives? Not much, I’m afraid. And perhaps there is ultimately no need, because Finns are actually happy.
Firstly, it is difficult for us to believe that we are a happy people. Often, we describe ourselves as melancholic, withdrawn, envious, and having low self-esteem. This is a curious mythology for which there is very little scientific support. It is an impossibility, simply because Finns are happy!
Secondly, we have always felt ourselves inferior to Swedes, who ruled us for many hundred years. For them, it is only natural to be wealthy and happy, but never for us. Thirdly, class differences are not as wide here as in many other countries. It also helps that our public schools are good, do not contribute to class differences, and rather work to bridge the gap.
Finally, displays of happiness – or emotions, generally – do not come very easily to Finns. It is also true that Finns can stand prolonged silence in social situations. “Talking is silver, but keeping quiet is gold,” a proverb goes. Mobile phones are changing this, though – they are omnipresent.
There is a book by economist Paul Dolan (“Happiness by design. Finding pleasure and purpose in everyday life”), which suggests that we should constantly evaluate our level of happiness. This is a terrible idea. These kinds of books have made me more and more critical about guides and manuals for attaining happiness. I do not personally ponder my happiness. It is enough for me to study other persons’ happiness!
Can you explain to me the idea of talkoo in relation to the idea of happiness in Finland?
Talkoo (or talkoot in plural, doing things together) has very little to do with happiness. During talkoo, members of a local community unite its resources to accomplish demanding tasks, such as making roofs (as a small boy, I participated in one such talkoo in my home village), village roads, or harvesting. Talkoo was a strong obligation, and placed severe demands on the members of the community. You could lose your face by not participating. It was a question of survival 100 years ago. Working together can obviously be a joyful event, but as international comparisons show, cultures that emphasize personal autonomy are among the happiest.
This is an important factor in our happiness, because socioeconomic equality correlates with happiness. Finland is one of the most egalitarian countries in the world.
Finland is among the most stable, safest and best governed countries in the world. Yet “unemployment [is] at 8% and a populist, nationalist party [is] garnering up to 20% of the vote” and has been seen as the country with the highest suicide rates – something that sounds quite far from the happiest country in the world. How can you explain that?
At present, the “True Finns” parties can attain about 10 % of the popular vote. We have to remember that in many countries, conservatives are actually happier than liberals. In Finland, “True Finns” are about as happy as Social Democrats or Green Party members. An even bigger surprise belies the situation: The happier a country, the more suicides happen in it. The correlation is not major, but the direction is the opposite of what we would expect.
Suicide is in many ways a difficult matter, but the absolute number of suicides is not too high in Finland (600 per 5 million). Unemployment does markedly decrease happiness, but the most difficult problems in terms of it are loneliness and mental illnesses. This brings us to a paradox: Why are Finns so happy, even though we seem to have a lot of problems? Obviously other countries have problems, too. These must simply be more serious than those in Finland.
Of these, depression is the most acute problem. Obesity is quite common in Finland, but it does not undermine happiness to same degree as the other two. Truly obese people are about as happy as those of average weight. Substance abuse is increasing, but is not as big a problem as in many other countries.
What are the biggest lessons that other societies can take from the Finnish idea of happiness?
The most important lesson is having a strong belief in welfare society. There are, of course, political differences, but a large majority of Finns believe that equality and justice belong to all. The one major task of society is the well-being of its citizens. We may criticize our high taxes, but on the whole we understand that they are necessary for our common good.
As in other Nordic countries, we trust each other, which makes life much easier. We even trust our police, which is not very common at all! Although there is lot of talk about the importance of optimism, we Finns are “defensive pessimists”. We expect everything to go wrong, but because not everything goes wrong all the time, we can be happy about it.
In Finland, we still believe that happiness equates common well-being, but will it last? The happiness boom strengthens individualistic trends: Take care of you own happiness and that’s all.
You say somewhere that your public schools do not contribute to class differences – how do they do that?
We do not have private schools for the well-to-do. Public schools are equally good nearly everywhere in Finland, and the main reason for this is the high quality of our university-based teacher education. A university degree is necessary, and applicant selection is made very carefully, which in turn motivates teachers and increases their general appreciation.
Furthermore, Finland was politically balanced enough in the late 1960s and early ‘70s to successfully implement a complete overhaul of the public school system, which has undoubtedly had a lasting impact on society on the whole. Foreign educators traveling here to inspect and learn from our system remain fairly common even today!
Also, why are class differences in Finland not as wide as in many other countries?
Finland has a long history of independent small farming, with only a few truly large landowners. The significance of nobility has been slight compared to many other countries ever since Finland became a democratic republic.
Finnish women were the first in Europe to get the right to vote, and to be candidates in parliamentary elections. The class differences were quite prominent 100 years ago, but the early parliaments were very progressive. The wars against Russia united people against a common enemy. Later the balance between right and left has produced good compromises. Finally, a protestant ethos with an emphasis on public literacy markedly elevated the educational level of Finnish people.