If you have been following the UN World Happiness Report’s annual accounts on the happiest countries in the world, you might have come across the fact that the Nordic countries continue to rank at the top spots year after year. In the latest 2023 report, all the Nordic countries can be found in the top 10, with Finland ranked at number one – for the sixth time in a row now.
Finland – like all other Nordic countries – is a country of high quality of life which is founded on our stable welfare system. Our form of government isn’t the only reason for our well-being though. Our happiness also stems from the modest mindset and the relaxed lifestyle that appreciates the cozy things in life rather than exuberance or extravagant endeavors. In fact, us Northern folks appreciate easy being and comfortable downtime so much that there is a word for that, hygge.
The Finnish society provides the basis for a happy life
Before we take a deep dive into Nordic happiness, let’s first take a closer look at the World Happiness Report and how happiness is perceived there. The World Happiness Report compiled by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Solutions Network focuses on measuring universal factors contributing to happiness, with the aim of reviewing the state of happiness in the world. The study examines happiness levels by asking respondents to evaluate their life and reflecting the results on various life factors: GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption.
The contributing factors to happiness measured in the report are all very much related to the results of government policies. The high happiness scores in Finland are attributed to social support, personal freedom and good governance – the backbone of all Nordic welfare states. Income equality, political and economic stability, low levels of corruption, strong social safety net and stable institutions are key factors in the Finnish society that provide the basic foundation for a happy life.
While our society certainly is progressive, well-functioning and relatively equal, our happiness – or perhaps a better word is contentment – also stems from our attitude to life. The Finnish mindset is wired for a modest lifestyle, balance and the appreciation of simplicity. This mindset is also reflected in our government policies and institutions which place great importance on factors such as work-life balance. Though we are hard working people, us Finns also like to take our time to relax and enjoy life’s quieter and more subtle pleasures. This can be described as Finnish hygge.
The essence of Finnish hygge
Originally a Danish concept, hygge has become a major lifestyle trend in recent years. Hygge refers to a schedule-free being that focuses on comfort, enjoyment and wellbeing through enjoying the simple things in life.
As a lifestyle trend, hygge can cover anything from interior design, loungewear and home spa products to self-pampering cuisine – anything that provides a cozy setting for well-deserved me-time. However, more than any external setting, hygge is a way of life that encourages to live a good life. Hygge can in fact be considered more as a mindset rather than any particular activity – and it's this mindset that results in long-term contentment which can also be seen in the happiness rankings.
Different cultures have a different way of interpreting what hygge means for them. For us Finns, hygge can mean things such as going to the sauna with friends, spending relaxed time in nature or knitting warm woolen socks on the sofa for the upcoming winter. Hygge is anything that contributes to the feeling of cozy contentment and balance. Here’s a couple of key things that are at the core of Finnish hygge:
Spending time in nature
For us Finns, living in harmony with our beautiful nature is certainly a big factor contributing to our happiness. Nature provides us with peace of mind, energy and relaxation. It’s no wonder that when the summer vacation season kicks in, the majority of Finns head out to the countryside to charge batteries in the quietness, instead of keeping up the pace in urban environments.
For Finns, forests are our living rooms (we don’t necessarily need candles and cuddly blankets on the sofa to get into the hygge mood! 😉). Forest activities such as berry picking are rooted in the Finnish lifestyle. Roaming in a quiet forest and enjoying delicious and nutritious berries certainly does a lot of good for the body and mind.
Our seasons here up North are varied and the conditions can get pretty rough especially in the winter. We still find our way to spend time in nature and are accustomed to live according to the seasons. Regardless of the weather and the changing seasons, we appreciate each season the way it is – and appreciating things as they are is one secret to our ability to live a contented life.
Strong sauna culture
Without a sauna, there can be no discussion of Finnish hygge. Sauna is a place for physical and mental cleansing, enforcing social relationships or decompressing from everyday worries. Dim lights, wooden scents and the soft cleansing steam are all part of the traditional Finnish sauna experience which quickly shifts the mind and body to a relaxed state.
Sauna is also a schedule-free zone. The point of a sauna evening is to go to the sauna many times and to take breaks by cooling off on the terrace or by dipping in the sea or lake, without looking at the clock. Wintertime is no exception to these rituals: then the cooling off is done by ice swimming, which is a big thing in Finland, or by rolling in the snow. These peculiar rituals help to unwind even further and give a nice twist to the whole hygge experience.
The key items to support a hygge way of living
Since hygge describes an atmosphere and a state of mind, buying a lot of products is not really what hygge is about. However, minding the external setting can surely help to set the mood for cozy comfort. Hygge-inducing props may come particularly handy when stepping into the darker and colder season, such as in Finland on the brink of winter. Here’s a few things to help you feel snug as a bug in a rug:
Candles and scents set the mood
Candles are an essential part of creating a cozy atmosphere at home. Their soft light and soothing flames create an idyllic setting for the dark evenings of the cold season.
Scented candles wrap up the room in an enchanting aroma. The veggie candles by Hetkinen and Metsä/Skogen charm with authentic Finnish scents such as forest, summer cottage and smoke sauna. Also, the candles have a wooden wick made of Finnish aspen which makes a soothing crackle when burned, reminding you of the comforting glow of a fireplace. Wrap yourself in a knitted sweater and thick socks and relax into the cozy atmosphere!
Teas to warm your soul
Curling up on the sofa with a good book and a cup of warm tea is maybe the most classic way to depict a hygge lifestyle. Herbal teas bring warmth and comfort for the daily cycle, especially during the colder season. Herbal teas made from nutrient-rich Nordic wild herbs take care of the body and the mind.
The Moomin teas from the Finnish teahouse Nordqvist are as hygge as can be – what would better embody the hygge lifestyle than the carefree and life-loving Moomin characters? The aromatic Moomin teas combine the favorite flavors of the Moominvalley with the fairytale characters’ easygoing outlook on life. The life lessons from the Moomins are a pretty good guideline for a hygge way of living in general – take a peek into the world of Moomins here.
Enjoy Nordic sauna and spa atmosphere
Sauna scents, cosmetics developed particularly for the sauna and sauna pillows and towels are the essentials for the ultimate sauna experience. Emendo, Metsä/Skogen, Hetkinen and Kaurilan Sauna make sauna gear and cosmetics that pamper all your senses.
Even if you don’t have access to a sauna, you can still get into the relaxed sauna mood. Create your own Nordic spa with lighting up a Smoke Sauna -scented candle, slipping Moominmamma wheat slippers on your feet or pouring yourself a forest-scented bath.