The Wealth of Notions

Amid all of life’s whoopsies and woes, I came across the UN’s annual report on world happiness. For the fifth year in a row, Finland has earned top honors.

Finland? Where it’s cold and dark six months of the year? Finland, whose economy ranks down around 45th in the world? They pay $9.00 for a gallon of gas over there, and their GDP per capita ($50,613) is much lower than ours in the US ($76,683).

Those blasted Fins have no business being this relentlessly happy, so I went down the rabbit hole looking for explanations. The same points were made in one article after another (one suspects they were written by the same chatbot, but you didn’t hear that from me). To summarize:

First, Fins value cooperation over competition. The tall poppy isn’t simply distasteful to them, but rather, disgraceful.

This emphasis on cooperation and cohesion shows up in a lot of ways. The education system is fair, high quality, and well funded. Anybody–rich, poor, immigrant, pagan, elder, whatever–can get a good, free education and higher education. Aptitude and effort are the limiting factors, not real estate taxes or legacy privileges. Public services are well run, from mass transit to public health to utilities. The taxpayers expect and get value for their money, the public sectors earn and rely on support from the voters.

Second, Finland’s emphasis on inclusion and cooperation means they have very little crime or poverty. Their poverty rate is one the lowest in the developed world, about half what the far “wealthier” US experiences. Their child poverty rate(4%)  is one fifth of ours (20%). Nobody needs to steal to eat, nobody needs to be homeless. Corruption in high places is not tolerated, much less expected, and conspicuous consumption is cause for tacit shaming. (And no, once you add in free health care, free education, lower real estate taxes, and other Finnish perks, the taxes really are not higher than in the US for most people.)

Trust among Fins is earned and well guarded. In the dropped wallet experiment, eleven out of twelve wallets dropped in Helsinki were returned.

People feel safe in Finland and they are safe. Much easier to be happy when you aren’t worried about basic necessities or bodily safety.

Third, one thing Fins do consume voraciously is a connection with nature. The average Finnish family might use much of the minimum four weeks of annual leave to spend time in a summer cottage, where amenities are non-existent, but natural beauty is inescapable. Finland consistently ranks near the top internationally on every measure of environmental protection.

I ponder these qualities–cooperation, cohesion, fairness, trust, and deep respect for nature–and it occurs to me that this is a blueprint for how to successfully wrangle climate change. One article in fact attributes the happiness of Finnish society to the traits listed above, and characterizes them as “hunter gatherer” qualities.

What a comforting irony, if the traits that sustained us through millennia of paleolithic challenges turn out to be the way home–to a planet that’s cherished and thriving, and to our own happiness. We know how to cooperate rather than compete. We know how to be trustworthy and fair. We know how to limit our consumption. We know how to treasure the natural world. We can get to a sustainable, happier world with wealth we already possess.

If you had a fortune to invest in one industry, or to propagate one value for the betterment of society and the planet, what would it be?

PS: In case you missed it, after more than a year on hiatus, The Sweetest Kisses contemporary romances are available for $3.99 each in the web store, and in print from Amazon.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

11 comments on “The Wealth of Notions

  1. What, that’s a great question!! And so hard to narrow down what single thing I would like to propagate. I guess it would be a sense of caring for everything around us. Caring for other people. Caring for other creatures. Caring for the planet. If we stopped thinking about me, me, ME and thought about US, life would be infinitely better for all beings and for our earth.

  2. As an old married woman (now approaching our 45th year of blissful married life!), I remember giving advice to a pair of newlyweds. What I suggested is that they each make every effort to spoil the other relentlessly, to always try to look at situations from the other’s perspective and come up with ideas to make the other’s life better. I knew a couple once who kept score about who did what for whom, always bargaining for what they wanted or needed, never willing to be in the “minus” column of good deeds. Needless to say, theirs was not a happy union. But if I could wish for one change in our country, it would be encouraging a willingness to do something nice for others, with no quid pro quo expected. If everyone could adopt that attitude, our lives would all be so much better. Everyone wins! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  3. Oh my, that’s a great question. There are so many things to propagate! The first thing that came to my mind was kindness.
    But, I’m really liking Make Kay’s suggestion of caring, too. And, Tina Armato has given a similar concept.

    I think it is interesting that we have all started fixing things with the concepts of kindness and caring!!!

  4. One thing? Make it tough why don’t you (LOL). I think affordable housing would be my choice but I would rather do it with a plethora of support systems for people who need help getting their act together. I would not object to people who have their act together but want to keep their cost of living down live in my affordable housing as well. P.S. I would not build behemoth apartment buildings but rather cottage colonies or something similar while still being cost effective.

  5. I would invest in businesses which help with climate change issues. I see the planet’s changing climate causing our grandchildren’s generation untold harm. I live in New Hampshire which is supposed to get the climate of North Carolina in 15 years. This comes from the department of Fish and Game who are worried about saving our wildlife.
    In 1979, I wrote a paper on how planting more trees by the freeway would cut down on smog. Houseman who redesigned Paris in the 1850’s planted sycamore trees to help with the pollution from coal fires. New Hampshire has 200 mill ponds which could generate electricity.
    I wish there were consultants who could help us figure out what we can do personally. I have 160 acres in Forestry which will help as long as I live. I could put in Solar panels, but no one in this state is prepared to buy the electricity.
    No one is even thinking about providing a rail network for public transportation. That window is closing because even the old rails have been pulled up and sold for scrap. My Greatgrandmother’s generation could take the train to parties all over the state when they were young. I would love to park the car and take the train to Boston.
    We get our vegetables from Arizona and California. Fifty years ago the were still greenhouses along the Atlantic coast raising fresh vegetables in the winter. Now that land is covered with housing tracts.
    I realize I look to the past for solutions, there are new modern solutions. I worry that solar panels made in China using rare minerals my not be the panacea we think it is going to be.
    A company to advise people on what we can do personally or what we should invest in would be helpful.

  6. As we were on the road, I asked my husband what he would change. “Oh,” he said, “I’ve been asked a number of times.” “So, what was you answer?” “I’ve learned the only thing I can change is my attitude.” So much for a discussion.

    I like to dream, myself. To caring and kindness, I’d add hope.

  7. This is a tough question. One part of me loves the idea of utopia. The other side of me got a degree in Chemistry and understands the Second Law of Thermodynamics. It takes energy to keep things nice. So we have to choose our battles. I choose children, because they are the future.

  8. It is hard to pick one. Maybe mental health services free and accessible and emotional intelligence/ conflict resolution taught in schools. I don’t know if it would solve the problem of aggression, but I think part of the Finnish question is that it isn’t really just about competition vs. cooperation, though of course that framework is central, it is also about the unhealthy nature of the competition we encourage and value above just about everything else. It is the kind of zero sum competition that devalues and even penalizes cooperation and that creates and perpetuates trauma individually, societally, and globally. It may simply be my bias that you need to be unbalanced to do what we have done to the environment for profit, for example, but if everyone who needed help and healing had access to compassionate care I think maybe there would be less violence (gun, domestic, etc) and more voices for universal health care, child care, environmental justice. Remove the obstacles that people have to acting out of kindness.

  9. I’m happy for the Finns but they do live in one of the least diverse industrialized countries (90% Finnish; a big chunk Scandinavian or Eastern European; 68% Lutheran). Compare to the U.S. where more than 50% of children under 18 belong to ethnic minorities That said, traditional U.S. values of independence, individualism, material wealth are not most conducive to happiness. I like the one-word Christmas message the Salvation Army General sent out many years ago: “Others.”

  10. I’d want to come up with something to replace capitalism that actually worked, that took into account the needs of the earth and the needs of a varied humanity. Socialism along the Scandinavian lines seems to be the closest thing, but we’re not there yet, and as someone else pointed out, it’s a little trickier when you have multiple ethnicities and economic levels and a large group of people who despise anything having to do with the government. If communism could have worked it would have been great, but what a disaster that turned out to be. Probably because it was even worse than capitalism when it came to self interest.

    Of course, it would have been great if brotherly love had worked out the first time virtually every single religion proposed it!