I got an unexpected civics lesson in Finland a few weeks ago while reporting on construction of the world’s largest cruise ship.
Every year or so someone does a poll of the world’s happiest countries. Finland is almost always at the top of the list. I don’t pretend to understand the exact methodology nor statistical analysis in general, but Finland has ranked happiest country in the world six times in a row now. Not bad for a place that’s frigid and dark large chunks of the year.
The pollsters appear to have skipped much of the Caribbean. Only Jamaica, 68th, and the Dominican Republic, 73rd, appear on the list. The United States ranked 15th on the most recent report. Not surprisingly, sadly, Afghanistan ranked last at 137th.
People in each country were asked to evaluate their lives based on several factors: generosity, freedom to make life choices, their perception of corruption, healthy life expectancy, social support, and their country’s gross domestic product. It’s important to note the 2023 report reflects attitudes of pandemic-ravaged 2022 — not exactly a normal year on Planet Earth.
But plague year or not, why does Finland top the happiness list?
Two hours’ drive west of Helsinki, Minna Arve gave me a pretty good answer. Arve, the first female mayor of Turku in the city’s 800-year history, said Finnish happiness was about citizens feeling recognized, important, and civically engaged.
“What’s the secret behind the happiest country in the world for the sixth time in a row? I think it’s about the resilience and the trust in society. That’s why, for me as mayor, it’s really important to have a kind of city where the residents feel that this is really their home. They are heard. We have ways to take decision-making and make it open and transparent. I think that’s actually the biggest thing,” Arve said.
The people of Turku, the former Finnish capital where one in five residents is a university student, are represented by a city council made of a true cross-section of life, she said. Men, women, young, old, rich, poor, conservative, liberal, even some university students sit on the council.
“It’s not about having a kind, happy face every morning when you wake up. It’s about having trust in the society where you are living is taking care of you at the end of the day. If you need the help, it’s there for you,” Arve said.
Turku and its outlying metro area have a population of about double that of the U.S. Virgin Islands. They’re fairly isolated, have weird inside jokes in their own weird slang, and host thousands of foreigners who’ve come to work building cruise ships. They also have a deep connection to the sea — kite boarding and water skiing in the frigid Baltic like it was Magens Bay.
A year ago, the Source launched an experiment called Local Tourist, where I asked you to go about your day with the wonder of a first-time visitor. I asked you report back what you thought was working well and what could be improved. In all honesty, I hoped to get enough responses for a single follow-up article. Five or six would have sufficed.
You wrote back in droves! I stopped counting at something like 175. You loved island beautification, hated litter, sought better signage for neighborhoods and culturally important sites, and more than anything, wanted fewer potholes.
A few of you also said you felt unheard, saying your government was going to do what it was going to do whether you were involved or not. That really stuck with me.
Here’s what the Happiness Report based their findings on: Income, health, having someone to count on, having a sense of freedom to make key life decisions, generosity, and the absence of corruption.
Curious where Virgin Islanders would land on this happiness scale? Me too.
As stated, I’m nobody’s statistician. Thankfully the world happiness report people seem to have used a simple 0 to 10 scale, with 10 being the best possible life and 0 being the worst possible life.
Tackling this all at once would be too much, so over the next few weeks, I’ll ask how you Virgin Islanders and associated Source readers feel you rank on these six criteria. We’ll use the same email address as last summer, firstname.lastname@example.org but please don’t send any responses yet. We’ll collect them one topic after a time, week by week.
What you could send in now, if so inclined, are predictions. On a scale of 0 (terrible) to 10 (perfect), where do you think Virgin Islanders will rank their happiness based on their collective income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom to make life choices, giving, and perception of corruption?
Like last year, I won’t use your name but I would like to know what island you live on or if you are part of the Virgin Islands diaspora living abroad.
That rearranged USVI flag image, by the way, took way longer to make than I anticipated. Feel free to email a better one if you like, but maybe hold off on hip-shot criticism.