3 Positive Thinking Habits I Learned Living in the World’s Happiest Nation
Living through a global pandemic is taking a toll on many of us, especially when it comes to our mental health.
It’s also affected our job security, shrunk our social lives, and even kept many of us away from our immediate family.
So it’s little wonder that a whopping 4 out of 10 adults in the U.S. alone have developed anxiety and depression since the outbreak.
As a British man living in Finland, I’m certainly not immune to the wide-spread feeling of isolation many of us are experiencing. I haven’t seen my family in months due to restricted air travel or even seen colleagues for more than an hour or so.
Still, Finland is a pretty good place to be during this time. Not only is the country dealing with the situation better than most, but It’s also been ranked the happiest nation in the world for two years running.
But what makes Finland so happy? And what can Finnish culture teach us about getting through tough times?
Here are three scientifically proven ways to boost happiness I’ve learned since moving to Finland.
1. Spend time in the forest
71% of Finland’s landmass is covered in forest, and there are around 4,500 trees for every Finn. The forest plays a massive part in Finnish life, even in big cities.
As I’ve learned first-hand, escaping the city and getting to know nature under the peaceful shade of giant pine and birch trees is the perfect way to de-stress, think about life, and value the small moments.
You don’t have to live in the forest to feel happy, or even spend most of your afternoon in one either. As you’ll see below, a small woodland ramble works wonders.
How to get happy with trees? Stay in the forest for 15 minutes.
In one Japanese study, 585 participants spent 15 minutes in different forests.
The results were impressive.
Every single woodland walker felt less anxious, more alert, and even found symptoms of depression easing up. The best psychological results were reported by the volunteers with higher levels of anxiety.
But If you don’t have time to walk through the forest, don’t stress. Looking at trees for 15 minutes is enough to put a smile on your face, even in winter.
But despite science proving 15 minutes to be enough, I recommend spending as much time as you can in the forest. Forests offer rare opportunities to step away from digital media, cut out the noise of the world, see some beautiful views, and — most importantly––to enjoy the moment.
2. Develop a positive mindset and a resilient attitude
In winter, most Finns commute to work in temperatures of -15 °C (5 °F). So how do they manage this with a smile? They develop a mental attitude that’s simultaneously tough and positive.
Finns even have a word for It: sisu.
The centuries-old concept is about living with determination, staying resolute in hard times, keeping an action mindset, and reaching beyond limitations.
Recently, psychologists have found that a considerable amount of our happiness depends on how we deal with challenging moments.
So having sisu is essential. It helps us see life’s hiccups as a chance to make things better. In fact, people with sisu almost welcome the challenge that comes with things going wrong.
3. Enjoy a steam in the sauna
Being born and raised in the U.K., I was at first surprised to see just how big saunas are in Finland. But It didn’t take long to understand why.
Finns invented the sauna, and have been getting steamy since at least 1112. Back then, saunas were simple holes dug into embankments and filled with steam to keep out the cold. Of course, they changed and developed over the years, and now there are an estimated 3.3 million saunas in Finland of many different shapes and sizes.
Sauna bathing (when done right) can ease pain, improve cardiovascular health and even make us happy.
A 30-minute sauna session makes us feel less stressed, and serotonin is released when body temperature is raised to lift our mood and give us a warm and fuzzy feeling.
Many Scandinavians have saunas in their home, so they can enjoy them during the pandemic. But for those who don’t, visiting one when restrictions are eased may do a lot to help melt the stress of such a turbulent time away.
In summary, try to take it easy
Taking it easy at a time like this is easier said than done. But I’ve learned that it’s worth trying.
Living in Finland has taught me that the secret to happiness is about reducing stress and anxiety, and waiting for the storm to pass.