In Finland, a relatively egalitarian society, people tend not to be fixated on “keeping up with the Joneses.”
“People often do pretty well in social comparison,” said Antti Kauppinen, a philosophy professor at the University of Helsinki. “This starts from education; everybody has access to good education. Income and wealth differences are relatively small.”
David Pfister, an architect from Austria who lives in Oulunkyla, a suburb of Helsinki, said that he would describe Finns as content, but that it was hard to say if they were happy. “The baby has increased our happiness,” said his wife, Veera Yliniemi, a teacher. Another man in the same suburb, Janne Berliini, 49, said he was happy enough. “I have work,” he said. “The basic things are in order.”
People in Finland also tend to have realistic expectations for their lives. But when something in life does exceed expectations, people will often act with humility, preferring a self-deprecating joke over bragging, said Sari Poyhonen, a linguistics professor at the University of Jyvaskyla. Finns, she said, are pros at keeping their happiness a secret.
The report this year received little attention in the Finnish news media. “Finland is still the happiest country in the world,” began a short article that ran on Page 19 in Ilta-Sanomat, a daily newspaper.
All of the countries that ranked in the top 10 — including the four other Nordic countries — have different political philosophies than in the United States, No. 14 on the list, behind Ireland and ahead of Canada. Lower levels of happiness in the United States could be driven by social conflict, drug addiction, lack of access to health care and income inequality, Dr. Wang said.
Things in Finland are far from perfect. Like other parts of the continent, far-right nationalism is on the rise, and unemployment is 8.1 percent, higher than the average unemployment rate of 7.5 percent in the European Union.