Two hundred days of winter. Two whole months where the sun never rises above the horizon. Temperatures that can drop to 20 degrees below zero. This is Finland, the “Happiest Country in the World.”
Finland was once notorious for its bland food and long, harsh winters, now this repeated success in the annual happiness rankings has helped transform the country’s global reputation, boosting tourism and business.
Published by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, a global initiative for the United Nations, the 2021 World Happiness Report looked a little different from previous years, as it focused on the effects of COVID-19 and how people around the world have fared.
“Our aim was two-fold: first, to focus on the effects of COVID-19 on the structure and quality of people’s lives, and second, to describe and evaluate how governments all over the world have dealt with the pandemic. In particular, we try to explain why some countries have done so much better than others,” the report stated.
Finland excels with its quietly world-class public services, low levels of crime and inequality, and high levels of trust in authority.
“The basics are really good here: we don’t have anyone living in the streets, we do have unemployment but the health service works, the big things like that,” flower seller Riitta Matilainen told AFP.
Despite the drawbacks of 2020, Finland still ranks as number one in the world. For travelers looking to experience some of that happiness, Visit Finland, the country’s tourism organization, points to a few key activities: Reconnecting with nature – 75% of the nation’s land is covered in vast forests or exploring one of the 188,000 beautiful lakes in the country, via kayak or canoe or horseback ride along the shore or partaking in the Finnish tradition of sitting in a sauna.
In the last couple, tourism to Lapland in northern Finland had reached record levels and the country was attracting more foreign direct investment projects than anywhere else in the Nordics.
The pandemic, increased overseas interest in Finland’s clean, sparsely populated nature, leading tour providers to offer virtual tours.
“Even though people are not able to travel now, you are able to dream about Finland and the happiness of a true connection with nature, where you can really unwind,” said Virkkunen.
Iceland, Denmark, and Switzerland followed Finland in the list of the world’s happiest countries, respectively. The Netherlands came in fifth on the list, while Sweden landed in the sixth spot.