Happy Helsinki: The City To End All Cities

Finland’s favorite city (and ours, too.)

Helsinki. UNSPLASH Ethan Hu

Helsinki, the capital of Finland, remains as one of the country’s most prevalent cultural centers. It has some of the highest urban standards of living, and has been determined as the world’s most livable city by Monocle.

Over half the world’s population live in urban areas today, making city-centered quality of life more relevant than ever. Not to mention, an overwhelming portion of worldwide GDP is generated in these areas, allowing them to outperform in terms of economic growth.

These substantiate the importance of Helsinki’s rise. In fact, the 2020 World Happiness Report — a publication of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network powered by data from the Gallup World Poll (an annual survey conducted in more than 160 countries, which covers 99% of the world’s population) — explores factors within each area’s natural and constructed environments.

According to Jeffrey Sachs — economist and UN advisor — “the reasons for wellbeing include good social support networks, social trust, honest governments, safe environments and healthy lives.” These are some configurations of the World Happiness Report, in addition to the mitigation of inequality, pollution, and climate.

Implications of the natural, social, and political environments within 156 countries are explored as well. Unsurprisingly, the Nordics have been ranked top ten, with Finland placing first. As a matter of fact, over half of the top ten cities worldwide  according to how positively their inhabitants currently evaluate their lives — are located in Scandinavia.

Photo by Tapio Haaja on Unsplash

Okay, so what are they doing right? What is it that makes Finland so darn happy? Well, there are several drivers. First, they offer free public health services in the form of health stations, dental clinics, maternity and child health clinics, and hospitals.

This year, the maximum out-of-pocket fee for treatment in primary health care is around 20 euros, which is roughly USD $24. These payments have an upper limit per calendar year, beyond which clients are no longer required to pay. In addition, if standard fees undermine statutory maintenance obligations of clients or their families, municipalities determine their charges based on the ability to pay. Just for reference, there is nothing equivalent in the U.S.

Second, they are home to some of the most successful students globally. Furthermore, results from Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) — a standardized test given to 15-year-olds in over 40 global venues — revealed Finnish youths to be the best young readers in the world. In the 2009 PISA scores, for instance, the nation came second in science, third in reading, and sixth in math; among nearly half a million students worldwide.

Helsinki Library
Photo by Phil Aicken on Unsplash

More astounding yet, there are no mandated standardized tests, apart from one exam at the end of a student’s senior year of high school. There are also no rankings, comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions; meanwhile, the institutions themselves are publicly funded. Roughly 93% of students graduate from high school, and 66% move on to higher education — the highest rate in the European Union.

Needless to say, we could learn a thing or two from these city-country counterparts. It would seem that a good measurement of “happiness” requires a heavy examination of the social and political environments at hand. And so, while these reports can be configured as somewhat subjective, their ordering holds water.

Samantha Bertolino

Content Editor Associate

Samantha is a Connecticut native and an avid lover of reading, writing and poetry. She spent two months in Florence, where she studied business and the architecture of old chapels, in addition to developing a taste for espresso and tea.)

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