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  • Writer's pictureKimberly OLeary

Why are the Finns the Happiest People on Earth? Appliances!!

We came to Helsinki early in May to visit our friend and former exchange student, Irena. I didn’t actually know much about Helsinki or Finland, other than bits we’d heard from her. I had read recently that Finland ranked number one in the U.N.’s World Happiness Report for the fifth year in a row.

The report looks at factors that contribute to happiness, and relies on surveys of how people feel:

Positive affect is defined as the average of previous-day affect measures for laughter, enjoyment, and doing or learning something interesting. This marks a change from recent years, where only laughter and enjoyment were included….The general form for the affect questions is: Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? Only the interest question is phrased differently: Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?...Negative affect is defined as the average of previous-day affect measures for worry, sadness, and anger. (emphasis supplied)

Here are the top 16 countries (I've included 16 so we can see where the U.S.A. ranks, since that is my home country):

Why is Finland #1? It certainly isn’t the weather, where in May it has ranged from 38F to 58F, has rained about a third of the days, and is light outside more hours than I have ever experienced (with corresponding darkness in the winter).

People tend to attribute the high happiness of Scandinavian countries to things like quality health care, quality education, and robust social services. And, I don’t doubt those factors offer considerable boost to one’s feeling of well-being. But there is one surprising factor I had never considered: things here work really well! By “things”, I mean appliances, everyday objects, and systems.

We had a lot of laundry to catch up on after living five days in a Paris hotel. Our previous stays in Lisbon and London left me with a “hate-hate” relationship with washing the clothes. The clothes were always wrinkled, no matter what I did. Either we had to dry some of them for days (hanging in a damp apartment in Lisbon) or I had to juggle an old, difficult iron on a counter and stove-top crowded with appliances, after the washer cratered the clothing with deep wrinkles (London). After the first full day in Helsinki, I proclaimed to Paul,

“Helsinki wins the award for the best appliances!”

Paul: “What award is that?”

Kim: “My award.”

Paul: "Oh, the famous "Kim" award?

Kim: "Yes."

The washer and dryer each operated quickly and efficiently, and I did not need a PhD in clothing machine operations to figure them out. The light-weight iron heated up quickly; it got out every single wrinkle. It cooled down quickly and easily managed my most delicate filmy blazer sleeves. The dishwasher was quiet. The coffee-maker was quick, with a “hold” function if you can’t wait for the entire (and might I say, very large) pot to complete. The bed is exactly the right height and the mattress exactly the right comfort-level. The shower can be hot, warm, cold, full, mild or slight – with a hand-held spray or a waterfall spray. Whatever you want!

These attributes transfer outside our apartment as well. The streets - which are well-lit - are wide and clean, and offer clear walking spaces, bicycle lanes, and vehicle lanes. Public transit offers online tickets or cards -as you please. Metro transit offers USB ports and/or plugs and there are no steps to get in and out. Free Wi-Fi is offered in many public spaces, (including transit), groceries, restaurants and ferries. Grocery carts are the Fred Astaire of the shopping experience. They glide effortlessly across the store, move in any direction, and are light-weight. Everything is just so organized – to weigh vegetables, you find the number on the display (e.g., oranges were “141”) and push that button on the scale. The rest is automatic.

Beautiful design is also a hallmark of Finland, so not only does everything work, it looks nice. Helsinki offers clean lines and clear blocks of color. Old and new fit together seamlessly.

Our Finnish friend nods her head:

“Yes, we say in Finland, everything works! Usually we take this for granted, but when we travel abroad we notice that things do not always work in other places. So, we always come back!”

We will only be here a few weeks, but I can say with confidence, I hope to be back!

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