Wellness

Time to move? Finland is the world's happiest country based on the annual World Happiness Report

Don't worry Canada, you still made the top ten.

Don't worry Canada, you still made the top ten

(Credit: Getty Images)

Presumably, most newcomers to Canada find its brutal winters something of a tough sell (with this past winter, in particular, no doubt doing precious little to soften the pitch). Should you be tiring of using the tools with which you've stocked your winter blues arsenal, you may even be contemplating a temporary (or permanent) trip to a cheerier country. One with persistent blue skies where the mercury never drops below a balmy 18 C. Contemplate away. But before you put the house up for sale and stuff a duffle, consider that you'll still need your winter clothes if you're planning on starting over in almost all of the happiest countries on the planet.

For five years now the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network has released an annual detail that contains rankings for the national happiness of 156 countries. It's called the World Happiness Report (WHR) and it's based on key factors like Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita, income, life expectancy, social support, corruption and social freedoms – all analyzed in an aim to pin down the state of global cheerfulness. Intangibles like trust and generosity also figured prominently. This year's report came out last week, quite officially at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in the Vatican, with Finland taking the top spot for happiest place on Earth.

The top ten happiest countries have been the same for the past two years with some simply jumping about in the line up. This year's top ten, in order of chipperness, are Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia. You'll note that only two of those are comparatively warmish year round. In fact the first-place winners from the last three years are Denmark, Switzerland and Norway. All decidedly wintery countries. But geographic weather systems, it seems, mattered little in the pursuit and measurable attainment of happiness. Case in point, most Finns confirm that stark winters with little sun did very little to offset their welcome access to incredible natural landscapes, an excellent education system, social services, free healthcare and safe communities. And all countries at the height of happiness report a similar appreciation for the resources afforded them.    

This year, 117 of the countries were also analyzed to establish a ranking for the happiness of their immigrants. The results, state the report, "are generally positive" and a bit striking. Finland, cleaning up thoroughly, clinched the top ranking slot for happiest immigrant population as well. In fact, that held true for the top ten happiest countries — most of them also had the happiest immigrant populations.   

Professor Emeritus of Economics, John Helliwell who also specializes in social interactions, identity, and well-being at the University of British Columbia told media that the data collected from immigrants in particular for the report is compelling. "Although immigrants come from countries with very different levels of happiness, their reported life evaluations converge towards those of other residents in their new countries," says Helliwell. "Those who move to happier countries gain, while those who move to less happy countries lose."

If you're tempted to point to financial opportunity as the main reason for a brighter population, consider that while it plays a role, salary is far from a foolproof recipe for contentment. The report is careful to point out that "immigrant happiness, like that of the locally born, depends on a range of features of the social fabric, extending far beyond the higher incomes traditionally thought to inspire and reward migration." In fact, "the countries with the happiest immigrants are not the richest countries, but instead the countries with a more balanced set of social and institutional supports for better lives."

As a curious aside, about 80% of countries worldwide link the concept of luck to their respective definitions of happiness. Useful if you'd count yourself among the lucky ones. If you lean unlucky, consider that there is something of a science to changing your stars. So, maybe you don't have to move after all, even if your country didn't make the top ten.

Should you want to get granular about our more specific geographic gaiety, the happiest cities in Canada (the happiest of the happy that is), as reported by Stats Can, were areas that may not register as entirely seductive. Saguenay and Sudbury both rated exceptionally high in overall life satisfaction. They also share similar latitudes, which almost certainly means nothing – but any correlations that allow us to pin down happiness are worth stating, says I. That said, go Chicoutimi Saguenéens and Wolves, respectively.

As far as Canada's historical happiness ranking, we've held either the 5th or 6th spots since the inception of the WHR in 2012. Full disclosure though, recent years have seen us tumble to our lowest ranking yet. Last year we hit 7th. This year we're holding in that spot again and hopefully we'll never see 8th (or by the sacred gods of Maple Syrup, fall out of the top ten entirely). I say we tough it out one more year before seeking out the happier countries. Canada is still pretty awesome, due in no small part to its people, who are largely well respected when we sojourn abroad. Maybe we just need a vacation.

But if we do get edged farther from the coveted spots near first, there's always this year's happiness hero, Finland. While it won't save you from a long, dark winter it does hold top titles in choice categories like the best place on the planet to be a mother, the most saunas per capita, the cleanest air in Europe, and one of the safest (and now the singular happiest) places to live.

Intriguingly, and tangentially, Finland also boasts the most heavy metal bands of any country — about one black clad metal ensemble for every one of its cities – if that's your cup of thrash. Faves are Children of Bodom, Impaled Nazarene (yup) and Apocalyptica. So kauan eläköön metalli! Long live metal, if your Finnish is rusty. Pun intended and stressed.

Maybe heavy metal is just the thing for a light heart? Let's up the metal bands, Canada, and see if we can't break top three next year.


Marc Beaulieu is a Montreal writer, producer, performer, professional host and mental health advocate whose one true love is weird news.

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