We now know that economic growth doesn’t necessarily translate into greater well-being. A closer look at Nordic countries such as Finland reveals surprising truths about what really makes a happy society and how other governments can emulate their success
19 January 2022
IF YOU want to maximise your chances of living a happy and fulfilled life, you might consider moving to one of the coldest, darkest countries in the world. Since 2012, The World Happiness Report has ranked the average life satisfaction of more than 150 nations. In the past four years, the top slot has been taken by one country: Finland.
No one was more surprised than the Finns. “The Finnish self-image is that we are this introverted, melancholic people,” says Frank Martela, a philosopher and psychologist at Aalto University in Finland. More surprising, at first glance, is the fact that as the country has ascended to the top of the well-being charts, its economic development has remained remarkably flat.
This seeming paradox confirms what many people have long suspected – that our traditional focus on economic growth doesn’t translate into greater well-being. While gross domestic product (GDP) continues to be the default proxy for people’s welfare, many economists and governments are waking up to the fact that our fixation on money is distracting us from policies that could actually improve the quality of people’s lives. Indeed, various nations, from the UK to New Zealand and Costa Rica, have now publicly stated their intention to track measures designed to better capture human happiness.
Clearly, this is no trivial task. So what can we learn from the evidence emerging from psychology, and the social sciences more broadly, about the various factors that contribute to our emotional well-being? And what, if anything, can that tell us about how other countries can emulate Finland’s success?
One of the biggest problems is that happiness is …