The world’s happiest people live in Finland, according to many surveys. So let’s take a look at Helsinki to find out what’s going on here. Why are these people so happy?
They will say it’s more a matter of being content, being satisfied with their lives rather than giddy, ha-ha happy all the time and that’s because their society functions very well. The economy is strong, the educational levels are high, there is a decent level of economic equality, and the society provides services such as health and medical, retirement pensions, and cleaning up the cities and maintaining the infrastructure that makes everything work beautifully together. So the residents are very happy about all of that.
Another reason why their life is good is this city is a beautiful place. It has lovely buildings. It’s nicely designed with plenty of sidewalk cafés and outdoor activities for those warm summer months, good streets, lots of bicycle paths, and pedestrian areas with enough urban density to provide those walkable neighborhoods and shops and cafés nearby, but it’s not crowded.
Helsinki’s town planners have done such an excellent job of creating a livable city that it was praised at one time by the Harvard Architectural Digest as the best-designed city in Europe.
July is an excellent time to visit because the weather is at its best. The city is not crowded, and hotel rates tend to drop. That’s because July is the peak month for locals to take their vacations, either at their summer cottages in the Finnish countryside, or elsewhere in Europe, especially on the sunny beaches of the Mediterranean Sea.
Business travel also grinds to a halt in July, leaving hotels looking for customers and lowering their rates to attract the few remaining travelers. All of the scenes in this video were photographed during the month of July, which is when I always bring my groups to visit there. While I tell you a bit more about Helsinki and Finland, I’ll continue showing some scenes of the city, focusing for now on Esplanade Park that most popular green space in the heart of town. During July temperatures are quite mild, usually in the 70s, so it does not get hot, because Helsinki is so far north, as nearly as high as Anchorage, Alaska. At the peak of summer you get 20 hours of sunshine. There will still be plenty of locals in town for you to mingle with, if you so choose, and you’ll find that most of them are friendly and fluent in English, and they like spending time outdoors on the streets, in the cafés and parks, enjoying that fleeting good weather.
You can imagine when there’s 20 hours of sunshine in the middle of summer there’s also 20 hours of darkness in the middle of winter, so they truly enjoy taking advantage of the summers.
Although Helsinki is in a relatively remote position in northern Europe, it’s easy to get here by flying, or many people come by ship, perhaps on a cruise of Scandinavia, or you can come here on a two-hour ferry ride from Tallin, Estonia, just across the Gulf of Finland, which is a branch of the Baltic Sea. And from St. Petersburg, Russia, you can take a train, which we have done many times in our trips.
Surprisingly, Finland is not part of Scandinavia, nor are they related ethically to the Slavic people of Russia, which borders them to the East. Instead, they are grouped with Scandinavia as Nordic cultures. Somehow the Finnish language is most closely related to Hungarian, although it’s really not clear how this happened.
The two main ethnic groups in the country are Finnish and Swedish, so the country has two official languages, with many street signs labeled with both Finnish and Swedish. But 88 percent of Helsinki natives speak Finnish as their first language, and nearly all of them speak fluent English. You’ll have no trouble communicating with the Finnish people.
Children begin their schooling in kindergarten and by age 9, they start foreign language training with French and German currently the most popular choices. English had been the number-one preference until Finland’s entry into the European Union. At age 13, students who speak Finnish as their first language start learning Swedish, and vice a versa. By age 14. Most students begin learning a fourth language.
Thanks partly to the excellent education system, Finland has one of the strongest economies in the world.
Recently ranked as number-two for competitiveness and they’re in the world’s top 10 for good environmental policies.
Finland is the first country in the world to prepare plans for a National Circular Economy. Have you heard of that, Circular Economy? It’s basically recycling, reusing, repairing, lower consumption, protecting the environment from climate change, pollution, waste and loss of biodiversity.
That’s another reason why people here are so happy.