For the fifth year in a row, Finland has been named the world’s happiest country this month. According to the latest World Happiness Report from the United Nations, our friends up north rank as the most satisfied population out of 149 countries surveyed in the poll.
So, what makes the Finns quite such a contented bunch? Well, the results are based on a variety of self-assessed factors, including values such as social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom and generosity – all of which Finns rate themselves highly on.
Yet, it’s also come to our attention that the Finns have a handful of unique words in their language that, together with the country’s extensive social support programmes, and free higher education and healthcare, may go some way to explaining their particularly sunny take on life.
Here are three examples of this vocab – each of which sheds light on a way of life that’s infused with carefree vibes, along with a deep-rooted sense of purpose.
The concept of “sisu” can be roughly translated as “a combination of determination, perseverance, grit, and stoicism”, and according to Finns, it could be the key to life, love and success.
“[Sisu] contributes to physical and mental wellbeing and helps you communicate with your partner, family members and colleagues,” reads an explainer from Finland.Fi, the online home of the Finland Promotion Board. “You can raise your kids to have sisu. You can use it as the basis for leading an active, healthy life, you can leverage it to progress toward your goals, and it might even help you find happiness.”
Sisu is rooted in the inner satisfaction of taking on a challenge and succeeding at it, on a basis that is personal than you – rather than being validated by outside praise. “You don’t brag about having sisu; you just ‘let your actions do the talking,’” say the experts at Finland.Fi.
Similarly, sisu involves having deep-seated faith in yourself, as opposed to relying on other people for recognition and growth. It’s all about powering through life, adapting and building strength from within as you go.
Rather brilliantly, the Finnish phrase “kalsarikännit” is defined as “the feeling when you are going to get drunk home alone in your underwear – with no intention of going out”. What other language has *that* in its armoury?
Naturally, the concept took on a new significance under lockdown, when huge swathes of us were doing nothing but getting drunk in our underwear, at home; and by necessity, as well as some degree of choice.
Pronounced “karl-zar-ee-can-ee”, this genius past-time even has its own emoji; making the rest of us wonder what on earth we’ve been doing drinking with our clothes on all this time. Although, to be fair, with the traditional wood-fired sauna at the core of Finland’s cultural traditions – many saunas can be found in private city apartments and country cottages – the Finns probably have more excuse than most for lounging in their underwear.
We know that helping others makes us happy, as does speaking to strangers. So it makes sense that the Finnish notion of “talkoot” brings a whole lot of joy with it, too. As our friends at Finland.fi explain, talkoot is used to describe “an event where neighbours, villagers or colleagues get together to help accomplish a large job”. This might cover anything from “cleaning the grounds around an apartment building, making improvements to a local schoolyard, or even making a music festival possible”.
For example, every July, an annual rock festival called Ilosaarirock takes place in the Eastern Finnish town of Joensuu. Huge celebrations such as these around the country rely on the tradition of talkoot to bring people together, in a giant volunteering effort that makes the magic happen.
Tempted to taste some of Finland’s unique happiness first-hand? Hear what Stylist contributor Lizzie Pook has to say about why Finland is the ultimate solo travel destination. Happiness plus adventure? Bring it on.