Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The sensible secret of Nordic happiness — not hygge, not the welfare state, not the drinking

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Jukka Savolainen writes in Slate:

Is hygge still a thing? The Danish concept of comfortable conviviality and all things cozy is supposed to capture the essence of Danish culture and has been marketed as the secret for happy living. A few years back, there was a surge of hygge-related books, articles, and household products. Journalists from around the world were touring Denmark to document various aspects of this unique lifestyle. The enthusiasm around Denmark was stimulated by the nation’s reputation of being the happiest country in the world. However, last time I checked, the designer store across the street here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, had moved its selection of Hygge branded candles to the clearance corner.

If there has been a downturn in the hygge industry in recent years, it may be because Finland, my home country, has surpassed Denmark in the World Happiness Report four years running. Denmark occupies the third place, after Iceland, in the most recent edition, released in March, and its distance to Finland is growing. As reported by multiple media outlets, the Finnish spiritual equivalent to hygge is something far less convivial and much more difficult to pronounce: kalsarikännit, which translates as “pantsdrunk,” refers to the practice of binge drinking home alone in your underpants. If this is a secret to happy life, let’s keep it that way: a secret.

Nobody is more skeptical than the Finns about the notion that we are the world’s happiest people. To be fair, this is hardly the only global ranking we’ve topped recently. We are totally fine with our reputation of having the best educational system (not true), lowest levels of corruption (probably), most sustainable economy (meh), and so forth. But happiest country? Give us a break. As reported by a correspondent for the Economist, when a Cabinet member of the Finnish government was introduced at an international conference as “the representative of the happiest country in the world,” he responded: “If that’s true, I’d hate to see the other nations.”

Finland hasn’t always had such a blissed out international reputation. In 1993, when I was living in New York and still fresh off the boat, 60 Minutes featured a segment on Finland, which opened with this description of Helsinki pedestrians going about their business: “This is not a state of national mourning in Finland, these are Finns in their natural state; brooding and private; grimly in touch with no one but themselves; the shyest people on earth. Depressed and proud of it.” As far as facial expressions of the Finnish people, not much has changed since then. We are still just as reserved and melancholy as before. If happiness were measured in smiles, Finnish people would be among the most miserable in the world.

As it turns out, the World Happiness Report—the annual study responsible for these rankings—does not pay any attention to smiles, laughter, or other outward expressions of joy. Instead, the report relies on Gallup polls, which ask respondents to imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero to 10. The top rung (10) represents the best possible life for you, while the bottom rung (zero) represents the worst. The survey participants are then instructed to report the number that corresponds to the rung on which they are currently standing. In other words, you are deemed happy if your actual life circumstances approximate your highest expectations. No need to clap your hands or stomp your feet.

Given this emotionless definition of happiness, it is not so surprising why my compatriots score high on what should be described as average life evaluations. Compared with most other countries, objective living circumstances in Finland are very good indeed: the rates of poverty, homelessness, and other forms of material deprivation are as low as they get; people have universal and free access to world-class education and health care; parental leaves are generous and paid vacations are long. These are the kinds of factors most experts focus on when making sense of why Finland, Denmark, and the other Nordic welfare states dominate the happiness rankings.

But there is more to the story. We should not ignore expectations, the other aspect of the formula used in the World Happiness Report. Consistent with their Lutheran heritage, the Nordic countries are united in their embrace of curbed aspirations for the best possible life. This mentality is famously captured in . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2021 at 9:38 am

Posted in Daily life, Psychology

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