Finland: happiest place on Earth?

It’s been quiet on the blog (thanks for the reminder Mom!).  One thing that I have been ruminating on is a recent report that ranked Finland as the happiest country in the world (again!).  This was actively commented on in Finnish social media and the news.  One common question is why?

I can see why Finland was ranked in the top spot again. The country by and large has a stable economy.  New families are supported with parental leave.  There is access to health care. Mass transit is accessible and affordable.  There is convenient access to nature (we visited Helsinki and Tampere, the two largest cities in Finland, and were minutes from large parks).  A lot of these points and others are comprehensively discussed by Anu Partanen in The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better of Life), which I talked introduced in a post about sisu.

I suspect the happiness measure would not be the same across different groups in Finland.  The same week this happiness report came out, two news articles in the Finnish media described harassment and discrimination by female Cabinet members and how non-white (non-blonde) Finns are routinely asked “are you from here?” (sound familiar?).  COVID 19 cases are increasing here again, leading to talk of a partial lockdown. There is work to be done, even in Finland.

Personal experience with the health care system confirms how Finnish society is structured to support the ranking on the happiness report. I had to renew a regular prescription – which meant calling for an appointment.  The doctor was able to approve the prescription over the phone, which cost 15 dollars for a 90 day supply.  I recognize that might have been an exception, but it is line with a similar process for my spouse.  She had to visit the doctor (25 euro office visit) before refilling her prescriptions.  We don’t have a “health care plan” – the country has universal health care.  What we had to do is call a central number that routed me to a care team based on our residence address.  When compared to the US, a visit to the doctor runs $250 + prescription – all part of a high deductible plan that can reach to $10K annually.  I am not even factoring in the monthly cost for a plan.

It did take some time to get connected to the correct place (a lot of calling around, etc) – and not speaking Finnish made the process harder. I recognize that I may not be taking in the full cost of the visit – it seems that health care is paid through taxes – so ask me again in a year. ( :-0 ) To be fair, based on the chapter on taxes in Partanen’s book, I don’t think taxes are as unreasonable as you would imagine (in other words, it is not the “dreaded socialism”!).

The experience with the health care system contrasts the difference between freedom from and freedom for.  I perceive Finnish society is set up to value freedom from worry – worry that you won’t be supported in your old age, worry that you won’t be able to pay your health care expenses, etc.  U.S. society is structured around freedom for choice – that you can choose the type of coverage in your health care plan, you can choose how much you want to save for retirement, etc.

Understandably this is a simplification with a continuum between the two. I do enjoy having choices (most of the time – it can be overwhelming).  It does make me wonder how we could change intended outcomes by applying some of the Finnish mindset (freedom from) towards some of the pressing societal issues the US faces. What do you think?

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