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There is a lot of debate about which is the ‘best’ country in the world, but the happiest has recently been decided by the UN. To the surprise of some and presumption of others, it’s Finland. The Sustainable Development Solutions of the United Nations produces an annual report ranking the happiness of each country, based upon factors such as life expectancy, social support and levels of corruption. For the first time, the survey has also included the well-being of immigrants as a determinant. Finland has risen from fifth place in the 2017 list to first in 2018, taking the crown from its neighbouring Norway, with the other Nordic countries also scoring in the top 10. While ‘happiness’ is subjective to each individual, these are the main influences that have made Finland – statistically – the happiest country in the world.
The happiest countries in the world aren’t necessarily the richest, but they are capable of handling an unstable global economy. Finland has had a few economic slumps in recent years, particularly after the Eurozone crisis, but has been quicker than most countries to bounce back. Only around six percent of the Finnish population is living in poverty and Finland has the lowest numbers of ‘working poor’ in the EU.
Taxes in Finland are high, but they are invested wisely into the social support system. The social security system, known as Kela, provides free healthcare for all Finnish citizens and residents (plus free emergency healthcare for tourists), unemployment support, free higher education and even a free ‘Kela box’ of supplies for each baby born in Finland. This idea is so positive that it has recently been adopted by Scotland as well. Rates of chronic homelessness in Finland are also some of the lowest thanks to the social housing programme.
The reason why the US fell from 14th to 18th place on the 2018 list is mainly due to the country’s growing health crisis; obesity, substance abuse (particularly opioid addiction) and depression are all rising in the US. Finland does have its own health issues, with drug and alcohol addiction rising and increased levels of depression in remote areas. Yet average life expectancy is still high at 81.38 years and the universal healthcare system keeps citizens in good overall health, both physically and mentally.
One thing that expats note when they move to Finland is the sense of freedom they gain there, both physically with the amount of open space to explore and socially with few restrictive laws. In December 2017, Finland celebrated its 100th anniversary of freedom from Russian rule and the free society that they have built since then.
Finland is often considered one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Even the police are some of the most trusted in the world, with zero recorded incidents of police brutality or corruption. Bribery, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office are all illegal in Finland and isolated incidents of such are incredibly rare.
Finland also scored highly in the newest item in the happiness report. While the extreme cold and remoteness doesn’t make Finland particularly attractive to expats, those who do brave the cold find Finland to be a highly friendly, welcoming and accommodating country. The social security system tries its best to help immigrants assimilate into Finnish society, such as providing Finnish language classes and information about life in Finland. While some nationalists are against Finland becoming a multicultural nation, others say that the country actually needs more immigrants to solve a looming labour crisis caused by a dramatic drop in the birth rate.