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The happiest people in the world
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The happiest people in the world

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Since 2002, the World Happiness Report has detailed the world’s happiest countries based on several factors and, once again in 2020, the report determined that Finland is the happiest country in the world. The report looks at gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make your own life choices, generosity of the general population and perceptions of internal and external corruption levels.

Finland is followed by Denmark, Norway, Iceland, and the Netherlands. Finland, which received a score of 7.8 out of 8, gained even more of a grip on the title because of its citizens’ high levels of trust in its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where are we? The US comes in at No. 19 due chiefly because of the pandemic and other stressful events in 2020. Grouped with North America, despite dropping in the happiness rankings three straight years, Canada topped the continent with a 7.1 rating, ranking No. 14 worldwide, followed by Costa Rica at No. 16.

What makes Finland’s residents so darn happy? According to www.theculturetrip.com, Finland has had a few economic slumps in recent years, but has been quicker than most countries to bounce back. Only around 6% of the Finnish population is living in poverty.

Taxes in Finland are high, but they are invested into the social support system. The social security system, known as Kela, provides free health care for all Finnish citizens and residents, unemployment support, free higher education and even a free “Kela box” of supplies for each baby born in Finland.

Rates of chronic homelessness in Finland are also some of the lowest thanks to the social housing program.

According to the report, reasons for our low position is mainly due to our growing health crisis; obesity, substance abuse (particularly opioid addiction) and depression are all rising in the U.S. Finland does have its own health issues, with drug and alcohol addiction rising and increased levels of depression in remote areas. Yet average life expectancy is still high at 81.38 years and the universal health care system keeps citizens in good overall health, both physically and mentally.

Finland is often considered one of the least corrupt countries in the world. Even the police are some of the most trusted in the world, with zero recorded incidents of police brutality or corruption. Bribery, embezzlement, fraud and abuse of office are all illegal in Finland and isolated incidents of such are incredibly rare. Of course, in any city there’s going to be some level of crime, but even in the capital city of Helsinki there are no major safety issues. Once you get to the more rural areas of the country, crime is almost nonexistent; Finland was named the safest country in the world according to a 2017 World Economic Forum report.

After reading up on Finland via many online sources, I think Finns also have an awesome way of looking at life. For example, of all the unusual holidays and national days appearing on the calendar, one of the strangest to emerge in recent years is Finland’s National Day for Failure, which is celebrated on Oct. 13. But why would a nation with such high standards and a long string of records and achievements find it necessary to devote an entire day to celebrating and glorifying failure?

The first Day for Failure was held in 2010 by Finnish university students. Their reasoning was that Finland would be needing thousands of new businesses and jobs in the future, but a natural fear of inadequacy was holding many people back from founding those businesses or pursuing those jobs.

By the second year, the Day for Failure had gained so much publicity that big names in Finnish society, such as Nokia’s chairman of the board, popular game Angry Bird’s creator and coach of the men’s ice hockey team, spoke out in support of it. Today, many Finnish artists, media personalities and politicians are continuing to support the day and have shared stories of their own defeats, which turned into wins on the official website.

The reason the founders decided to devote an entire day to screwing up is because it is frowned upon in Finnish society. A need to succeed has created many talented people who have achieved a lot, but it makes others feel inadequate and afraid of trying new things. The organizers of the Day for Failure argue that making mistakes is a normal and healthy part of life, which goes toward success rather than detracting from it. They invite big names and high achievers to speak on the day and explain the setbacks they have had in their own journeys to success and how they learned from them to provide inspiration to others.

Encouraging people to try new or difficult things without worrying about the consequences gives them the confidence to step out of their comfort zone and enjoy an activity. By sharing stories and photos of botched attempts online, they lose their natural fear of criticism.

There are events being held throughout Finnish universities on the Day for Failure. The organizers suggest that participants try some of these activities, sharing their experiences and tagging them with #dayforfailure on social media: Read up on the personal setbacks of your idols or people you admire; try a difficult recipe, even if the food gets burnt (easy one for me); share “fail photos” on Instagram; blow money on something unnecessary or something you’ve been wanting for a long time; ask your crush out on a date without fear of rejection (no good for me, Clooney is taken); search for “fail” on YouTube and see what comes up, and think about how you can learn from your flops and turn them into successes.

My suggestion? Adopt a daily mantra courtesy of Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Peg DeMarco is a Morganton resident who writes a weekly features column for The News Herald. Contact her at pegdemarco@earthlink.net.

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