A few years ago, I went to Finland on a holiday. My late husband who had a fascination with Nordic countries selected Finland for us at that time and later he went to Iceland in a journey he had been wishing for his whole life. He wrote on a postcard back to our daughters that he had been meeting “warm wonderful people”.
Finland was beautiful, the people were gentle and energetic and welcoming, their country’s history was enthralling and the community values and priorities captivating.
The UN World Happiness Report ranks 138 countries according to their citizen’s levels of happiness. Since the Report commenced, Nordic nations have dominated the top 10, and Finland has been at the top for 5 years in a row.
Melissa, an Australian now living in Finland told an SBS reporter this week “Finnish people seem to be quite satisfied with the way things are, and they don’t seem to want more constantly.” In the same article happiness expert and researcher Frank Martela said “happiness [is] not part of the Finnish self-image…[and there is] a cultural focus on perseverance”.
Australia is ranked at number 12 in that survey, although in a recent Ipsos study survey among 30 countries surveyed, happiness was most prevalent in the Netherlands and Australia, with 86% and 85%, respectively, describing themselves as “very” or “rather” happy. The markers of happiness in this survey are physical and mental health, having partners and children and having a meaningful life.
Years ago, when I was talking to a young consumer leader from New Zealand about his dreams for his life he said, “I want what you want – somewhere to live, someone to love and something to do”. For me this interaction and advice has always resonated strongly – safe housing, belonging and connections, and employment and daily activities.
We each think about our own happiness differently and I am quite sure that mental health and “happiness” whilst linked are not at all the same things.
As we came to the end of October 2022, we were really delighted that thousands of people signed up to our #lookafteryourmentalhealthaustralia, World Mental Health Day campaign which provided daily encouragement to take care of ourselves. This past month has seen activities and engagement around the country at workplaces, schools, gyms, sporting clubs, nursing homes, kindergartens and across social media to recognise the importance of caring for our mental health, supporting others and seeking to reduce stigma.
I remember the connections we made travelling in Finland – the happiest country. A community perhaps where people persevere in the face of trouble and where they are satisfied with where they find themselves. I think about Australia and the idea of equating happiness with health, family and a meaningful life. Our themes for World Mental Health Day have been “awareness, belonging and connection”. May these experiences be part of your now and your future.