Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why Finns Are the Happiest People

It might be more about what they don't do.

Key points

  • Finns don’t try to keep up with the Joneses, don't neglect the importance of nature, and don't break trust with one another.
  • 2022 Tokyo Study spanning 62 countries confirms 227 links between nature and well-being.
  • In a “Lost Wallet” experiment Finns returned 11 out of 12 wallets.
Debbie Peterson/@heyjasperai
Source: Debbie Peterson/@heyjasperai

The United Nations World Happiness Study asks citizens to rate their level of happiness and ranks countries based on their responses. It raises the question: What are the attributes of a happy country?

Who better to answer that question than a philosopher and psychology researcher from a country whose citizens, despite long days of winter cold and darkness, consistently score some of the highest happiness numbers in the world?

Frank Martela, Ph.D., studies the fundamentals of happiness and lectures at Aalto University in Finland. Martela and colleagues share attributes that likely drive The Finnish sense of well-being. Recent studies concur. Their happiness may be about what they don't do:

  1. Finns don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. They aren’t given to overt displays of wealth, and even the most successful people in Finland look just like everyone else. The Finns seem to have figured out what many psychology studies now indicate, many aspects of the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ mindset are unhealthy.
  2. Finns don’t neglect the importance of being out in nature. Even the simple act of bringing the outdoors indoors by adding a few plants inside increases the quality of life. Research published on August 5, 2022, in Science Advances magazine confirms that there are even more benefits of spending time in nature than previously thought. Alexandros Gasparatos, Ph.D., associate professor of sustainability science at the University of Tokyo and co-author of the study, explains that mood, attitude, behaviors, and values can change instantly or over a short duration, following interaction with nature and that interactions with nature stimulate feelings that expectations and needs are satisfied, and enhance spiritual values. The Tokyo study also found that interactions with nature further the development of meaningful human relationships.
  3. Finns don’t break the community circle of trust. Finnish people tend to trust each other and value honesty. A “lost wallet” experiment in 2022 tested the honesty of citizens by dropping 192 wallets in 16 cities around the world. In Helsinki, 11 out of 12 wallets were returned to the owner. People can increase community trust by asking themselves, “How can I show up for my community to create more trust? How can I support policies that build upon that trust?” Observing simple courtesies, like opening doors for strangers or giving up a seat on the train also create trust.

For five years in a row, from 2018 through 2022, Gallup's poll of the Fins for the United Nations reveals the Finns have the world's highest overall satisfaction with life. Happily, the findings apply across the globe, not just to Finland.


Huynh, Lam Thi Mai; Gasparatos, Alexandros; Jingumae, Shibuya-ku; Su, Jie; Lam, Rodolfo Dam; Grant, Ezekiel I.; Fukushi, Kensuke; (August 5, 2022). ”Linking the nonmaterial dimensions of human-nature relations and human well-being through cultural ecosystem services” Science Advances Volume 8 | Issue 31.

Most Honest Cities: “Lost Wallet” Test. A study by Readers Digest reporters. (Jan. 25, 2023).

The Nordic Exceptionalism: What Explains Why the Nordic Countries Are Constantly Among the Happiest in the World. Frank Martela, et al.

Why I love the sea – and what does it have to do with a meaningful life? Frank Martela.

More from Debbie Peterson
More from Psychology Today