While preparing for my solo trip through Europe, I had heard that the Scandinavian countries were the happiest countries in the world. Because I’m passionate about solving a problem that is tightly connected to helping others become & stay happy, this single piece of information had stuck with me above everything else I had learned about the countries on my planned route!
Why are these countries considered the happiest countries? What is Nordic Nirvana? What is their definition of being happy? Are their people actually happy? I wondered, researched, and asked natives these questions quite a bit throughout my trip. Unfortunately, spending only 1-3 days in each country while doing a little research on the side is clearly not enough! I now have more questions than answers, and I’m excited to continue learning about Nordic countries to explore these questions! Some takeaways:
- All three Scandinavian countries that I visited (Iceland, Finland, Sweden) have ranked in the top 10 happiest countries on the World Happiness Report by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network since it started in 2013. The report measures each country against 6 categories (income, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and trustworthy governance), and ranks them based on the results. The idea is to research whether well-being and happiness can be used in measuring the development of countries in the world. However, I was surprised to find out that the Nordic countries also have the highest levels of suicides and sales of antidepressants. Why is that the case? Is the “happiness” ranking accurately & comprehensively measuring the level of true happiness in those countries? When asked about this ranking, the natives did NOT seem to respond confidently either! Especially, folks from the younger generation seem err on the side of “yes, but …”.
- It’s cold and cloudy for the most days of the year. Especially during the winter, it’s so dark and depressing that the people either hibernate indoors or spend it in a tropical country in the south. Surprisingly, every country was sunny when I visited, and the locals seemed surprised as well. Maybe I brought the sunshine with me 🙂 Do weather & surrounding natural landscapes impact the emotional & mental state of people?
- The people are not as racially diverse as I expected for countries that are viewed as “liberal utopias”. Without racial or ethnic diversity, do they truly bring diversity of perspectives that lead to healthier, happier, and open-minded communities?
- The economic and social policies of the Nordic countries follow the “Nordic Model” which is also referred to “Social Democracy”. It’s a full fledged free market economy with strong property rights and low barriers to free trade, but with a strong social welfare. This political setup clearly addresses the basic needs and quality of living of their citizens further impacting the levels of happiness & well-being in those countries. But just having basic needs met enough for happiness?
- The Nordic countries are also considered to have the highest gender equality! They were the first to allow women to vote, provide the best parental leave benefits, have the highest percent of women on leadership positions across private and public sectors, and provide the lowest salary gap between genders.
- Also, did you know that the Nordic countries are starting become one of the biggest entrepreneurial environments in the world? Angry Birds, Spotify, Skype, and Pirate Bay all came out of the Nordic countries! Also, we can’t forget IKEA, H&M, ABBA, Volvo, Ericsson, Nokia, and more!
After a 2-day relaxing stroll through the streets of Amsterdam, I went up to Stockholm to continue exploring the concept of Nordic Nirvana. Thanks to a family from Mongolia who were so kind to host me in their beautiful home south of Stockholm, I got the ultimate local experience of Sweden! They were close friends of my parents, and my brother & I used to visit them every year during Mongolian Lunar New Year (White Moon). After losing contact for over 10 years, it was amazing to have an opportunity to reunite. Thank you for treating me like a family, feeding me with yummy food, giving me comfortable bed, and showing me around the city! Tungaa Egch, Boroo Ah & Dolly!! ❤
Making a wish 🙂
The family that hosted me ❤
The Baltic Sea
To continue my move towards my final destination and my exploration of the Nordic Nirvana, I decided to take an overnight ferry (more of a cruise) ride from Stockholm to Helsinki over the Baltic Sea. Spending 16 hours in a luxurious cabin all by myself, taking spontaneous meditative walks on the deck, visually exploring the little islands off the shore of Sweden, and enjoying the vastness of the Baltic Sea was one of the most healing experiences I had on the trip. Especially after sharing rooms with others at hostels every night for 2 weeks straight, having that time to clear my head was much needed.
After getting into Helsinki in the morning, I had only about half a day to explore the city which is surprisingly enough time to walk all around the city and see the key sites. However, it was clearly not enough time to try to understand the existence of the Nordic Nirvana in Finland. I will be back to explore that more.
And of course, I had to visit the local art museum as my latest obsession with art of naked people continues. Not all “naked art” interests me, but the ones that draw me in are the ones that somehow shows the true self of the person in the art. They are not trying to hide anything about themselves or show a facade to the world. They are just there … being themselves both physically & emotionally.
I love the ones that I can see and feel what the person is thinking … the ones that I can tell how comfortable she is in her own skin but not trying hard to prove anything to the world … the ones that let me feel the roughness in her life.
Now off to take a 3 hour train ride to my final destination – Saint Petersburg Russia ❤