Is there anywhere you have always wanted to go?
Growing up there were two places for me. One was Disney World (standard answer I think – I used to write short stories all the time where the repeated theme was that my family had won a holiday there… my wish finally came true as an adult, almost twenty years ago now, when all my family got to visit courtesy of the generosity my brother and his wife.
Here’s me, Mary P, and my eldest many moons ago…
Anyway, I digress. The second place that I have always wanted to go to is Iceland. I had a book – I *think* it was one of those Ladybird ‘Do You Know’ books (I loved these) and there was a page all about geysers, and I was captivated. I thought the waterfalls, black sands, lagoons looked out of this world.
My heart was set on going there one day.
Fast forward to 2020 and we were off – the five of us on our holiday of a lifetime. Well, my holiday of a lifetime. Except, like so many of us, Covid came along and changed our plans. We’re hoping to make it this year but I’m not entirely sure that will happen either – but one day I will see those sights!
Here’s Iceland being amazing. And sadly no, that’s not me… yet!
Why am I telling you all this? Well, have you heard of the World Happiness Report? It is a fascinating, evidence-based report which reviews the science of measuring and understanding subjective well-being and life satisfaction to track the quality of lives in more than 150 countries. They use the Gallup World Poll, amongst other things, to support their findings, so the data is pretty robust. The report focuses on individual’s own reporting of happiness (as in, their own self-evaluations), alongside the data on the social environments around them, such as equality, interpersonal trust and so on.
The 2020 report is the 8th of its kind, and gives us clues as to where the ‘happiest’ people live (I take issue with the word happiness, as I have explained in previous blogs).
We can then begin to look at why these people are happier – what is it about these countries that brings about such joy, contentment and happiness?
So, guess who is up there at the top? Well, it’s not actually Iceland – although they almost are at the top – it’s Finland with a ranking of happiness of 7.809. Iceland is really close by in 4th position (ranking index of 7.504). For your interest, the rest of the top 5 include Denmark, Switzerland and Norway (Norway was my husband’s must-visit-country and we visited there in 2016 – what a truly wonderful place – don’t worry, no more photos).
Oh, OK then.
The UK, by the way, sits at position 13 and the USA, my other childhood dream destination sits at position 18 (ranking 6.9). Could do better?
As you can see, the Nordic countries are leading the way, over and over again. The report calls this ‘Nordic Exceptionalism’. What is it that they are doing so right, and how can we, on a micro-level, in our own lives begin to emulate their way of life? We can’t necessarily change the entire country, but if we each make personal steps in that direction, we inevitably push the needle on a wider scale, too.
Studies show that individuals that live in countries with welfare generosity report higher life satisfaction – whether they directly benefit from that generosity or not. Relatively generous welfare benefits, and a labour market that has some regulation that avoid exploitation tends to lend itself to a higher degree of personal life satisfaction.
Personal action: what can you do that is generous to those around you? Doing or giving something that is without strings attached for the good of your community? Living out personal generosity is the natural way to emulate this country-wide ideal.
The report shows that in countries where the democratic quality is high, and the delivery of that democracy is effective, it translates into individual happiness. This includes factors such as freedom of expression, freedom of association, stability, the rule of law and behaving without corruption.
Personal action: in your home life, and in your work life as a leader – is there opportunity for all to contribute and share their feelings, thoughts and ideas? Is there a stability about who you are that creates a sense of safety, progress and commitment? Do you act with integrity, following through on your actions, being and doing what you said you would do?
The Nordic countries, along with a few other notable examples, have led the way when it comes to income equality. Both the gender gap and the divide between the richest and the poorest seem to be an indicative factor in personal satisfaction. Countries that demonstrate fairness and equality in their legislation and practice produce citizens that return that investment with their happiness. (Norway and Denmark lead the way globally according to the inequality index, with the UK at 22, and 26 – the last position of the G7 countries).
Personal action: again, how are you, on a personal level, and on a leadership, or even community level, championing fairness and equality? What can you do within your home, in teaching your children about fairness, how can you make sure your leadership demonstrates fairness, and how can you level the playing field in your community?
Autonomy and freedom are known to impact upon well-being. When we feel we have the freedom to make choices, to live our lives as individuals that contribute to a society, our well-being improves. Tolerant and supportive cultures = happy communities
Personal action: in a home setting, how much agency do your children have (that is appropriate!), and in a work setting, how much contribution and choice do people have as to how they structure their time, or is there a tendency towards micromanagement?
There is evidence that suggests that the Nordic Phenomenon is fuelled by trust – not just of their immediate friends and family, but their wider community. Fascinatingly, high levels of social trust also seem to make people’s well-being more resilient to various national crises, too. It’s not just about trust too, they also have strong relationships and connections. They had a deeper sense of connectedness to those that they know and love, good social relations on a wider level, and a belief in the common good.
Personal action: how are your relationships doing? How much investment (I mean proper investment) are your loved ones getting? I know this is so hard with Covid19 but start with those that you can. I have to say I have been off the scale busy with work this last couple of months, but I am finding a new equilibrium starting this weekend and my loved ones are going to get my best. Also, how trusting are you? Do people trust you? It works both ways, being a person and leader that is trusted, but also choosing to give a bit of trust away. Have a think about how you can deepen the trust in your team.
These countries (along with other top performers) have high life expectancy and excellent health outcomes. They choose healthy lifestyles, as a whole, including a positive connection to the outdoors. They prioritise rhythms of rest, exercise, diet. On the whole, they respect their bodies and give them the attention they deserve.
Personal action: How is your health well-being? I don’t mean dieting or fads or January reactivity. How much do you prioritise your health, your body and your mind? How do you create spaces for this for your family and your team? Dr Sally Bell has led some fantastic work looking at the pillars of our health, rather than fixating on diets and fads.
So, there you have it. The why behind the happiness rankings. Is it what you thought? Did you notice the distinct lack of connection to status, possessions and achievements in there? (that’s not to say quality of life is not important – it absolutely is – but it seems the equality of life trumps that).
Has it caused you to think about what might contribute to your own happiness, and how you can up-level the happiness of those around you, both at work and at home? (Same thing for a lot of us at the moment!).
I’d love to hear your thoughts and actions.
Here’s to the Nordics!