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Fiona`s journey

Fiona Lally works as a press officer at the European Council for Young Farmers. Last August, she visited Finland as a guest of the Finnish Rural Network for the Rent a (Rural) Finn project. We recently spoke with Fiona to find out what she thought about her visit to the happiest country in the world and if she has managed to hang on to the Finnish secret to happiness.

Have you visited Finland before? What were you expecting?

It was the first time I visited Finland. It might sound silly, but I expected Finland to have lots of trees, to be a place where nature is still very prominent. I also thought that the Finns would be nice and lovely, if a bit introverted. As a quiet person myself, I was really quite relieved to be going someplace where I wasn’t expected to make much small talk. It’s something about Finland that I really appreciated.

What were your expectations of your happiness guide, Timo?

I hoped that Timo would know the area well and have the skills needed to survive outdoors. After all, I was going to a place I’ve never been before, with a person I’ve never met before. What I didn’t expect was just how generous he was, with his time and his explanations. I must have asked him a thousand questions and he always replied so kindly. It was kindness that was beyond anything I could have hoped for. I was also lucky to have met his daughter, Kaisa, who spent some time with us. And of course, his dog Mosku, was with us on some hikes.

The photos that you took during the trip were almost always just of nature. Was there a reason for this?

When I was in Lapland, I couldn’t stop myself from taking photos. The world I was looking at was so full of energy. In fact, when I came back to Brussels, I immediately took one of the photos to be enlarged and framed. It hangs in my bedroom now. I wanted to be reminded of that feeling in the Finnish countryside, of the knowledge that there are things bigger than I am.

I have been to places that are fairly empty once or twice in my life. What was most amazing about being in the middle of such emptiness in Lapland was how radically it changed my perspective on things. I live in Brussels and it’s so different from being in Lapland. When you live in a place with so many people, you have access to other cultures and ideas. However, you also almost have no time to just pause and reflect. And now, we have technology as an additional distraction.

When you think about the places you visited and the experiences you went through, is there a particular moment that stands out?

It’s so hard to choose one moment, but I think it’s the first day, when after having a Finnish breakfast of rye bread, Karelian pasties, reindeer meat and porridge, I went on a hike with Timo to Otsamo Fell. When we reached the top, I was overwhelmed by the landscape I could see beneath me and the way the sky was always changing. It was humbling to realise how vast the place was. I was fortunate to have Timo as a guide because he explained things to me. It was wonderful to somehow be in the wilderness but also to be there with a guide who could explain things to me, to be in such wilderness but not alone.

I had been feeling a bit stressed about things that were happening in my life, so it was the perfect time to go to Finland. I didn’t realise how much I needed to be in close contact with nature. It was freeing to look at the vast Finnish countryside and to be confronted with something that was bigger than me and my worries and concerns. To realise that there are things like nature that I couldn’t control. Living in the city can sometimes trick you into thinking that you’re in control of everything.

Have you found the Finnish secret to happiness?

I think happiness is subjective, but I think deep down, human beings understand that we need to be in nature to feel at ease. My lifestyle unfortunately doesn’t provide many opportunities for me to do this. And Finns have such easy access to so much beautiful nature.

I have learned that it’s important to meditate and just give yourself time to reflect on what’s happening. Being able to disconnect is very important for our mental and physical well-being. We’re sort of expected to always show that we’re productive, to have so many interests, but that too is often just a distraction from our inner reflections and from finding out what’s really important to us. I think when we are able to do that, when we sit in quiet reflection surrounded by nature, that’s when we find happiness.