Every year, in the weird season between winter and spring, the same thing happens: the UN Happiness Report is released. Every year here in the Northern edge of Europe we delight ourselves in discussing its outcomes. It looks like the report is released in the month of March especially for our part of the world: while other places start watching spring signs, we still walk the icy streets, covered in winter layers, wondering if the meters of snow will ever melt this year. And our only novelty and a topic for discussion is this: who is the world’s happiest country this year? Because it is us. Or our neighbors.
The first place in the happy ranking was occupied by Denmark for so many years that everyone just had to give up. But last year Norway suddenly squeezed in to be the champion. As we shrugged from the snow and sleet in April and pulled on our last resources of patience, we looked at each other with disbelief and amusement: look, we live in the world’s happiest country, what a surprise! The top five was occupied by our Nordic neighbors: Denmark, Iceland and even Finland, with one non-Nordic country (what was that again?) miraculously making its way into the top. This year Norway was moved to the second place, but by whom? By Finland, ladies and gentlemen! I felt like laughing hysterically. The positions reshuffle but you would find the same countries in the top. It looks like the Nordics are really better than the rest of the world: at least, at answering those surveys 🙂
So, my first (conspiracy) theory is that the report is released to cheer up the Northern population during the long late-winter season (which in other places is called early spring). The argument may be fun, but not heavy enough. That’s why I’ve got my second (conspiracy) theory 🙂 It goes like this. In the post-industrial societies, where the production of goods has been moved overseas, the bigger role will be played by the human capital and the cities will fight for this resource. We can all admit that vibrant cities like New York, Paris and London will always be able to attract the young and talented, while others have to be more creative to get the flow of human capital. The aging population of Europe places also a problem for many countries. In this light, the results of Happiness Report are the means of marketing for the Nordic countries. They also need the young and hopeful, but how would they attract them? Crowding the different reports is a good way to promote little countries in the North that tend to be fast forgotten in the big scheme of things.
Measuring happiness, though, is such an ungrateful job. At times my own happiness is so fluid and it is so hard to define when I am happy and when not. So how do you pinpoint the happiness level of a society? Reading the book “The almost nearly perfect people” by M. Booth gave me some insights into how the happiness is measured. In the base of this research lies the idea that the society with less differences is better for its people: less stress, less depression, less envy, thus less crime and better health. In this perspective, it is easy to understand why Scandinavia (and the Nordics) tend to win year after year. It is a place of little countries that value equality over everything and work hard for diminishing social differences. But is it all to happiness?
Let’s be honest, happiness can be defined in so many terms. For some, the family life and a big family circle is the source to happiness. Well then, while Scandinavia is a good place for mothers and children, it is also quite a lonely place, topping many statistics on loneliness. For others again, happiness is the vibrant life, high energy and exciting opportunities. If this were the base for the happiness research you would find the Nordics somewhere very low, because while it is safe and stable here, let’s be honest, it is kind of boring also.
Another example of happiness is given in “The almost nearly perfect people” in the quote of a Danish guy who said: “We have low expectations and we have them met – this is the happiness for the Danes. To be content with one’s lot”. Or as the author cites The Economist in their Nordic special edition:
“Scandinavia is a great place in which to be born… but only if you are average. If you are averagely talented, have average ambitions, average dreams, then you’ll do just fine, but if you are extraordinary, if you have big dreams, great visions, or are just a bit different, you will be crushed, if you do not emigrate first”.
That was a refreshing saying (after all the happiness reports and the articles on hygge :)) that captured a great measure of my sentiment which has been living in me without finding its expression in words.
In other words, happiness is a different thing for everyone. And while the researchers put their ideas into the base of what happiness in society may look like (most equality, least differences) it may differ from your personal idea of happiness. If you want to wear clothes that scream “look at me!”, signal your wealth or eccentricity, curate excellence in some way, then there is a slight possibility that you will not find yourself happy in the society that abhors the word “elite”, despises the attempts of being the best, and appreciates conformity and assimilation before integration. So, what I propose is that we all define what happiness is for each of us – and if you want to change places, find the one that resonates with your definition of happiness. While I will write a list of things that can make you happy in Norway – so that you can compare your happiness list against mine (especially, if you are thinking of moving to the Nordic region).
When Norway can be the perfect place for you.
- If you like winter. No, if you love winter. Above every other season. Not in like: “I don’t mind winter, but I prefer summer”. No, no, with that attitude head for another part of the world. Because Norway=winter. Cold and dark. Dark and cold. I thought also I didn’t mind winter (after all, I come from Ukraine, and this is just so close to Siberia, hehe). But I found myself waiting till winter is over, trying to forget about it in the salsa parties. This attitude will not carry you through for a long time. You have to like winter, to like the snow and the winter activities.
I once was talking to a Kenyan guy who liked spending a Sunday cross-country-skiing for 80 km. This is a right way to appreciate winter. If you love spending a day out in the woods or in the mountains, sweating on your skis or a snowboard, eating your lunchbox in some cabin or just in the snow, then you will be all right here. If you think that you will go all hygge and drink liters of tea while reading books, I must warn you that: 1) you must really looove tea and books so much, otherwise you will hate that too; 2) you can end the season rolling like a dougnut, because so much tea (often accompanied with cookies or sweets) during six months of the year is not good for you.
- If you enjoy being in your own company. A lot.
As I’ve mentioned, Norway tops the world’s statistics on loneliness. And yes, I have friends who seem to know thousands of people and never spend a weekend on their own, but this is more an exception than a rule in this country. You may experience difficulties making friends with the locals. Even the locals face the same problems when changing places, so don’t take it personally. It is not because you are foreigner, and no, they are not hostile to you, they are just this way, also to each other. You may experience difficulties meeting new people as it is not accepted to start a chat with strangers in the public spaces, others than bars on a Friday night (but then those strangers are not looking for friendships either).
- If your dream is to build a home and raise kids. Norway is one of the best countries to be a mother or a child in, you know that already. If your life project, however, is living a vagabond life, well, then Norway is good just for a period. Everything seems to be created for families. The recent newspaper announced that in the forming of the city budget the families have won: meaning, that the great part is allocated for the children and family services. Any place you go, a museum, library or a theatre, there will be activities for children, so you will always find something to do on a boring Sunday when the city seems dead. Sometimes I want to ask: what about us, free-spirited cosmopolite crowd who doesn’t have children? Are there any resources allocated to our needs? Or do we have to catch a flight to London or Barcelona every time we are hungry for some fun?
As my friend said during a concert of Enrique Iglesias in Oslo: “Every time I go to a similar event, I meet the whole Russian community and the whole Ukrainian community. Because it is not enough for us here. Oslo is so boring” (I sometimes repeat this phrase with my sweet Slavic accent: “It is not enough for us here”).
- If you prefer nature to culture. As Michael Booth says in the mentioned book: “Norwegians seem to be more connected to nature, than to culture”. The nature will be here in loads. You just take the subway to the last station and you can get lost in the woods for hours (I did it. Getting lost on a December afternoon on an icy path in the woods. And then it got dark. But it all ended well). Even living in the big city like Oslo you will have an easy access to nature: the parks, the river, the lakes and the woods at the outskirts of the city. If traveling around Norway to see its stunning nature is expensive for you (as it was for me), you can always hike or bike around the place you live.
While the culture…hmm, well, there will be some. But better not to count on that too much. Especially if you come from a big city vibrating with life. See again the previous point and the quote “It is not enough for us here” 🙂 Though, if you work for that, you can build your cultural life, volunteering at festivals, keeping your head up for parties and events. I don’t know for the rest of the country but Oslo seems full of small events. It doesn’t feel as lively as Hamburg where I was lucky to live for a period, but still things keep on moving here. And, honestly, I would not live in any other part of Norway, but I am an urban animal after all. If your idea of happiness is being closer to the nature, and you don’t care a lot about high vibrations of the city life, this country is for you. Peaceful and quiet. If you like stillness and silence, it is also a good place for you.
After living (and struggling) for many years in the North, I have come to realize: you cannot ask for something that is not there. Or – you can ask and wait, but why waste your energy and time? You have two options: either you create the thing you want – or you accept it as it is. You’d better try to take the best out of everything you get. You can also try to add some value and be creative with what you get. But if your values are totally different from those of the given place – you’d better go and find a place that resonates more with your values. Because nothing is more stupid than living with the Eskimos and asking for the palm trees. Sorry, they don’t have it. Go ask some other place. In the end, there is no place that is good or bad in its essence. It can only be right or wrong for you. Agree or disagree?
May you be happy in any place you are in – and may you have the freedom to choose your places!