Funny that you should ask, Sam! Everyone not living under a rock knows who the happiest people are, along with the name of that happiest country they get to live in. For a record sixth year in a row, according to the most recently released UN World Happiness Report, Finland has been hailed as the happiest nation in the entire world. If Disney claims their parks to be the happiest places on earth, one can only imagine what an entire country teeming with the world’s most happiness must be like. Non-stop euphoria every which way you turn and look. Finland is where I’m going next. And then I paused to wonder why everyone that could afford the trip was not jumping on a plane to Finland or better yet, not moving there. The answer, it turns out, lies in how happiness is defined, and that calling a country happy isn’t the same as calling its people happy either. This really threw me into a loop.  Curious, I started to read up on it before packing my travel bags.

Measuring a country’s happiness is a more collective metric than measuring an individual’s happiness and so the selected factors are different, though related. The list of six factors that go into determining the happiness index of a country are its GDP (Gross Domestic Product), health-life expectancy, freedom, generosity, having someone to count on in times of trouble, and trust (i.e., absence of corruption in business and government). If you are like me, you must have been surprised that love was conspicuous by its absence on the list. Apparently, love has been inflated to be something way bigger than it actually is by the music, movie, magazine and greeting card industries.

I had conjured up images of Finns giving one another high-fives as they pass each other on the street, greeting and welcoming visitors to their country with warm, big bear hugs. I had pictures in my mind of a country blessed with sunny beaches and great weather all year around where everyone took their families each weekend, for outdoor games, music and dancing. Nothing was farther from the truth, seventy five percent of the country is covered in forest and Finland has long, gloomy winters. Nordic people for the most part wear lugubrious expressions on their faces and there’s no unnecessary smiling. There you have it, the hard, cold facts. Where then, lies the happiness?

The people of Finland associate their happiness with something more foundational than just a smile on their face. Finns sum their way of life in a single word “sisu,” a trait said to be part of the national character which roughly translates into grit and determination in the face of adversity. As one citizen puts it, “when you feel like you have reached the end of your preconceived capabilities, sisu is the energy source you tap into to overcome and become resilient”.  I have never quite heard it put that way before: earning back one’s happiness through resilience. Yet another citizen thought the word happy is misleading since it brings up images of smiling faces.  He’d rather call the Finns content because, “when you know what is enough, you are happy”.

If I’m going to get me some happiness, I’m going to do it the way the happiest people on earth do it. Begin by honest soul-searching and knowing what makes me happy, the lasting kind of happiness. Then know how much of it is enough to keep me happy before it wrecks the happiness I’ve found. When I lose it, pursue with grit, determination, and resilience until my state of happiness has been restored. Mere want and wishful thinking won’t cut it, I need to tap into my very own ‘Sisu’.

It would be remiss of me if I did not mention our very own City of Joy. It was the late French author and Padma Bhushan awardee Dominique Lapierre, who passed away in December 2022, that first named Kolkata (then Calcutta) as the City of Joy. The author enjoyed the city’s warmth, hospitality, and generosity amidst conditions far less than ideal. Watching the joy that he saw abound in the city gave him the revelation that the best things in life are not always things, of which he said one has to experience, to understand it. The disillusioned Lapierre found his happiness in a place he least expected it, himself.

I now feel ready to make my travel plans to what could become for the seventh time in a row, the world’s happiest country in the world. Just that thought makes me happy.


Where can I find my happiness


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