Timo kukko

Five tips on how to be happy like a Finn

Timo Kukko was one of eight happiness guides chosen by Visit Finland. His task was to show tourists from all over the world what makes Finns the happiest people in the world. He was also Fiona Lally’s personal happiness guide for the Rent a (Rural) Finn project sponsored by the Finnish Rural Network. We asked him to share his insights into happiness and what it takes to be happy like a Finn.

1. Understand what happiness means to you. Happiness is a very difficult concept for Finns. There’s this idea that being happy means smiling and laughing all the time. I don’t think that’s how Finns understand happiness. For us, happiness is about being satisfied with our life and realising that we are in many ways blessed. Happiness means having access to education, enjoying equality, achieving proper balance between your work and other parts of your life.

2. Acknowledge the place nature has in your life. I don’t think there’s anyone who hates nature. But Finns have a unique relationship with it. We all have social, cultural and emotional ties to our natural environment. The forest becomes part of our life when we are very young. I remember as a child going to the forest with my parents – picking berries, chopping firewood, taking walks, orienteering. We might not have been allowed to go to discos often, but we were always permitted to go to the forest. I went with a friend on my first overnight hike when I was 14. When I turned 18, I would spend every weekend from the summer camping with friends and the first weekend we would spend home would be in December.
3. Don’t be afraid to explore. I was very impressed with Fiona and her willingness to go out of her comfort zone. Throughout our trip, she was always curious and open to the experiences that awaited her, whether it was to visit the second northernmost farm in the EU, to meeting a local reindeer herder, to learning about Sámi people and culture.

4. Be prepared to give and accept kindness. On the first day of our trip, we climbed Otsamo Fell with my dog Mosku. While we were resting on our way back, two anglers who had been fishing nearby shared their catch with us. Another time, a man offered us coffee from his campfire. These people never made us feel like we were strangers. They welcomed us. I hope we never lose this generosity to share what we have with others when we are able.

5. Embrace melancholy when it comes. It might seem strange to people outside Finland that we even mention melancholy when we talk about finding happiness. I think it’s a very Finnish trait. Our willingness to face or even seek such deep sadness allows us to experience happiness more fully. There’s a time and place for everything. By learning to accept those times when we are deeply unhappy, we are preparing ourselves to fully live in those moments when we are truly happy.