No, Finland is not the World’s Happiest Nation – The UN World Happiness Report is Fake News

No, Finland is not the World’s Happiest Nation – The UN World Happiness Report is Fake News

Author: Jon Hellevig March 25, 2019


The Finnish government has been basking in media glory as the country was declared the world’s happiest nation second year in a row in the recently published UN World Happiness Report. But it isn’t. Despite the clickbait title, the study did not even measure happiness.

What they actually attempted to study was how satisfied people are with their present life conditions. You don’t need to be an Einstein to understand that that’s relative; relative to your past experience, relative to your expectations. If you think as many do “Could be worse” you would reply “It’s good, it’s OK.” This then is recorded as satisfaction. If you feel bad but are brainwashed to think that your country is the best of all possible countries you might also give high marks to the country. That’s what the Finns do. Really, what the UN report boils down to is a study of how satisfied people are with how things are organized in their country.

Not happiness but satisfaction with how the country is governed

You would think that when one wants to determine whether a person is happy or not, one would put that question to the person. But that’s not what happens here. The study is based on a wide range of opinion surveys performed by Gallup World Poll in 160 countries across the globe. They cover topics such as:

  • Confidence in Financial Institutions
  • Ease of Starting Businesses
  • Satisfaction with municipal waste management
  • Availability of affordable housing
  • Approval of country’s leadership
  • Approval of Russia’s leadership (China’s, US)
  • Confidence in Honesty of Elections
  • Corruption perception
  • Perception of press freedom
  • Quality of municipal health care

You are also asked to assess your country’s government’s efforts to address climate change. The survey’s also addresses your attitudes to LGBT rights (apologize if, I did not get the right number of letters in the acronym).

All in all the data in the Gallup World Polls is made up of surveys covering closer to 150 such kinds of topics, many which concerns your perceptions on how the country is governed.  

Some questions targeting personal emotion experiences, but that is not happiness either

In addition to all those questions on how people feel about the local bureaucracy and waste management, the survey also makes a couple of attempts to gauge the actual subject matter, happiness. One of them is a subjective life evaluation question and the other consists of a range of questions about the person’s emotional responses to life experience.

In the latter set of questions the pollsters ask people what kind of positive and negative emotions they experienced the previous day.

On the positive side these are questions like:

  • Did you feel well-rested yesterday?
  • Were you treated with respect all day yesterday?
  • Did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?
  • Did you learn or do something interesting yesterday?
  • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday?
  • Did you enjoy yourself?

Negative effect questions go like this:

  • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about physical pain?
  • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about worry?
  • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about sadness?
  • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about stress?
  • Did you experience the following feelings during a lot of the day yesterday? How about anger?

More than being about happiness, these questions look like the kind of a psychological profiling a recruitment psychologist would do. 

And the results are hilarious. The results are so entirely culturally biased that there is just no way of making heads or tails of them.

The responses are compiled into a Positive Experience Index score and a Negative Experience Index score, both further divided into nations showing the highest vs. lowest index scores.


The Slavic and other former Eastern European nations confirmed their no-nonsense approach to these kind of BS surveys by expressing a very narrow range of emotions evidencing both the lowest score on the positive and negative experience indices. Belarus is a case in point being number one in both. It’s the vse normalno attitude that I know from Russians, especially in how they relate things to persons outside their close group. Asking “How are you?” a Russian would typically answer vse normalno (everything is normal, OK) in hot and cold, even if he would have been made jobless or won on the lotto the other day. Now, that does not mean that they did not feel emotional about the events, they just don’t want to speak about them, especially not to a pollster.

On the other end, we have fiery Arabs who claim to be angry about everything, no matter what country they come from, but with understandably worse poll results in the conflict-torn countries.

And then there are the rhythmic South Americans basking in the sun who show the highest positive index score.

But even those generalizations are ruined with oddities, such as Canadians from the cold North and Icelanders, from yet a much harsher climate, ranking among top 10 in the positive index score. Sweden, which in the overall rating is in the top just up there with the Finns, ranks among top 10 in the lowest negative index, whereas Finns have a much worse ranking in that standing.

And now finally the happiness question?

Then finally there is the one question purportedly directly addressing the question of happiness. But again it doesn’t. This question is what they refer to as the "Cantril's Ladder" and it goes like this: "Please imagine a ladder, with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?"

We see that the respondent in fact is asked to assess to which extent he/she has achieved the full potential of his/her life. We note that basically this constitutes a materialistic assessment and has nothing to do with happiness as such. “Giving your potential, how far have you gone?” It is quite conceivable that a happy but ambitious person would give it a low score if he thinks he could still move further. She would probably not say she is satisfied with her present results and would like to move on upwards. Correspondingly a miserable person who has given up all hope could say he’s reached the top. Think about a young athlete who is healthy full of vigor and happy of his sport but wants to achieve more.

There’s another angle to this which also has nothing to do with happiness as such. According to the authors, people from countries with a higher GDP per capita tend to give better scores on this question. This has been interpreted to mean that people in those nations feel materially more secure.

All the above components of the study are then somehow combined to yield the world happiness ranking.

But clearly happiness was not studied or determined, nor was well-being, but only the degree to which the respondents are satisfied with basic life conditions and the ideological preferences of the authors of the study. (John F. Helliwell, Richard Layard and Jeffrey D. Sachs).

The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return

Happiness cannot be measured and certainly not as a national averages subject to global comparisons. The authors know it and admit as much, but the word ‘happiness’ is kept in the title because it provides for a catchier heading ensuring better publicity in the global media.

Happiness is a purely subjective and fluctuating state of mind. At the end of the analysis happiness is a subjective emotion dressed of all exterior circumstances, a human is capable of finding happiness even in the most dire of conditions. Naturally, some people are able to sustain that feeling and live happily. A Finnish professor of psychiatry Kalle Achté recently defined a “happy person” as one “who does not suffer from feelings of guilt and who feels good about his relations with other people.”  This comes close to how I have learned to think about happiness through the song: The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.

Q.E.D.  The Nordic welfare model and globalist change agenda is good for you

The authors do not disclose what is the method by which they combined the various components from the massive survey data and which weight thee are assigned. What is sure, though, is that there cannot possible by any scientific method by which that feat is achieved. Rather what happens here is that the data is manipulated so as to yield the results which correspond with the ideological preferences of the UN and the authors of the report. In particular the report is designed to provide evidence for the superiority of what is perceived as the Nordic social welfare model and the cultural change agenda.   

The authors present the survey results (distilled to their liking) in a division of nine parameters:

  1. The response to the Cantril’s Ladder questions
  2. Positive experience index rank
  3. Negative experience index rank
  4. Social support
  5. Freedom
  6. Corruption
  7. Generosity
  8. GDP per capita
  9. Life expectancy

The sections 4 to 9 are based on the massive database of the Gallup World Poll. They are fictional categories inasmuch as nobody was asked questions that would directly reply to such. Instead the authors – rather in the way medicine men might go about declaring facts by throwing augural bones in the air or cracking shells – have twisted the Gallup data to develop these categories. Their function is to prove that what produces – the already completely illusionary happiness – is a good implementation of all the nice Nordic things as determined by these parameters.

Instead of the happiest nation, Finns might be the most resigned

What made me want to look into the essence and method of this UN World Happiness report was my bafflement seeing the headlines the world over touting Finland as the happiest nation. Hailing from that country, I know that it is a pretty depressing place which has taken a definite turn for the worse during the last decade.  

In Finland, a chilly wind blows under grey skies with no sun for the greater part of the year. The prices are among the absolute highest in the euro zone. The country has a chronic suicide epidemic ranking among the world’s 30 worst countries on this parameter. After a slight improvement in the previous decade the situation has become worse again. Now there have been alarming news about a precipitous rise in suicides committed by the elderly as every second day one over 65 year-old ends her life by own hand.

The neoliberal globalist policies conducted by the governments of all political hue during the last three decades have finished off what used to be the Nordic welfare model of Finland. - Too bad the UN reporters did not notice that. - They are defending a model which no longer exists. I who was born in the 1960s and raised in the Golden Age of Finnish welfare under President Kekkonen, can sign off that it actually was pretty good back then. People used to say that it was like winning in the Lotto to be born in Finland. Now, they say you must win the Lotto to afford living in Finland.

No wonder the elderly are distressed as about half a million of them have been pushed below the poverty line. That’s is a lot out of a population of 5.5 million. Of the entire population there are almost one million people under the poverty line or hovering just above. There have been more and more reports about people being so destitute that they cannot anymore even afford to buy Christmas presents for their kids.

Old people are placed in care homes, which the municipalities used to run in the past. But now they have been outsourced to private operators which neglect the people in order to maximize shareholder profit.

Half a million Finns, 10% of the population are on antidepressants so as to cope with the harsh realities of that country.

Family violence has reached horrific proportions. According to a survey conducted by the European Union, Finland is the EU’s second most hazardous country for women. Every second woman responded that she has been a victim of physical violence after 15 years of age.

In this environment fewer want to have offspring with a resulting catastrophic decline in birth rates in the last few years.

Charity food banks have sprung up in Helsinki and across the country because the official welfare system cannot deliver. The Government – trying to keep alive the “Happiest Country” myth – has literally wished away the soup kitchens by refusing any budget assignations to them.

There is a Government engineered migration crisis, which sucks up the welfare funds and has brought the laws of the jungle to the streets in the previously so safe Finland.

Things have gone so far that the Government persecutes dissidents in all manners typical of totalitarian states, including by way of sentencing people in show trials.

There is chronic unemployment, which the Government also tries to cover up by declaring that the long-term unemployed are not in fact unemployed, “they’ve just opted out from the workforce.” The unemployment statistics have been embellished also by a new law that forces the jobless to accept virtually unpaid slave jobs which they euphemistically call “job experimenting.”

This is not a happy country.

Perhaps instead of happy they are resigned

Far from being the happiest, Finns are the people most resigned to their fate. Finns have a sad tradition in trusting authority, that’s why they give in the surveys high marks to their rulers. Finns are also very gullible, together with the Swedes they show the absolute highest trust in the mass media. Brainwashed to believe in the superiority of their country, they continue to trust what their mass media tell them.



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Jon Hellevig

Jon Hellevig has worked with Russian law immediately since the start of market reforms in early 1990's. Having gained 5 years' experience as lawyer and CFO for American-Russian joint venture and subsequently worked as lawyer and CFO for Armstrong World Industries (Central and East Europe). Hellevig was the founding partner of what is now Hellevig, Klein & Usov, part of Awara Group.
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