Helsinki, Monday 8 am …The Finnish capital seems strangely calm during rush hours. Trams and cars intersect, but very little traffic. The city of 650,000 inhabitants doesn’t know the traffic congestion. On the radio, not really traffic information, it is necessary only in case of snowstorm. In the city in June, many bikes. Passersby and cyclists even take the time to stop to answer questions. For them, there is no doubt, they live in a country where life is good. But why this country where the sun shines only a few hours a day in winter is so relaxed?
First element of answer to the University of Aalto located in Espoo in the suburbs of the capital. An ultramodern campus that welcomes 12,000 students. In Finland, not like in Belgium, there is no need to pay a fee. Access to university studies is almost completely free. In the cafeteria of one of these buildings, we meet, Sio, 20 years old, studying economics. He details his monthly budget to study : « Currently I have to pay 50 to 60 € a year. And I have to pay a rent for 340 € per month but the government gives me 80% of this sum so I only pay a little more than 60 € a month. »
An ideal place to measure the temperature of Finnish happiness is of course the sauna. Nearly ten years ago, Helsinki residents built one on abandoned land near the Baltic Sea. The Sompa Sauna is open 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. Free, it is managed only by its users. Saara Louhensalo, one of the initiators of the project, explains ow it works : « It’s a free sauna. You can come whenever you want. You do not have to pay anything. But you have to manage the sauna yourself. If it’s not hot, you have to bring some wood. It’s a community management that works well even in the middle of the night.”
Inside the wooden cabin, it is over 80 degrees. The Finns stay there for a few minutes before throwing themselves into the sea at only 17 degrees. They enjoy the place of relaxation and usually come with friends to chat and have a drink. But critics against the UN study are rare even here.
Most Finns we met felt lucky to live in the country. However, last April, the Finns expressed their fed up against the political class. The breakthrough of the true Finnish party in the parliamentary elections. The far-right party has become the second largest political force in the country with one seat less than the first party. The UN ranking of the happiest countries in the world is based on polls conducted between 2015 and 2017. Do the results of this election mean that Finnish happiness should be revised downward? This is not the opinion of Emilia Palonen, political scientist at the University of Helsinki: “They may be happy, but they are disappointed with the political elites. In the last 4 years, there has been a lot of savings in administration. There is also a lot of uncertainty about how the government can respond to people’s uncertainties. Climate change has also weighed a lot. He mobilized some voters. But others feel that they are happy like that and they do not want to make the slightest change in their way of life because of the climate. The fear of having to modify one’s way of life because of the climate mobilized a lot those who do not want to change anything.”
And when we look closely, the UN ranking, we note that the quality of health care is one of the great positives of Finland. And it is true that when you enter the brand-new Helsinki Children’s Hospital, you come across a huge wall of giant screens that represents an aquarium. We think we are more in a hotel than in a place of care. Nothing to compare to Belgium. The tour continues with the playrooms and the ultra-modern and spacious rooms.
Here, everything is done to amuse and entertain the little patients. This hospital is public like any other in the country. And no need for additional insurance to be able to pay the bill according to Pekka Lahdenne, Pediatrician: “We are in a public hospital and access is free for everyone through emergencies. When children are hospitalized, the bill is 40 € per day with a maximum of 800 € per year.”
While the Finns are often surprised by the first place he occupies in this ranking, the government has decided to use it to promote the image of this great country to only five and a half million inhabitants around the world. She has just launched an advertising campaign. The goal is to sustainable associate the image of the country with happiness. Laura Kamras, Public Affairs Officer, Ministry of Foreign Affairs explains the project: « We are so modest in Finland that it is hard for us to admit that we are the happiest in the world. We made it a sales tool and today we invite all foreigners to come to Finland to test the model of life via sharing Finnish life for a few hours. But what is behind this ranking is our mode of operation. This is what must be passed on as a message behind this ranking. How can we develop a country so that everyone is happy? »
Even if this happiness is to be relativized according to these criteria of definition peculiar to each one, Finland has some assets to favor its hatching. And she intends to use it to attract tourists and investors who will help to consolidate this first place in the world.