Anyone who goes to a typical supermarket in Finland will be surprised to find a case full of Omega 3 goodness: smoked salmon smoked at different temperatures, cooked salmon, raw salmon, and other healthy goodies including a plethora of rye bread, and butter so creamy it has the consistency of cream cheese. I don't even really like butter that much, but I LOVE me some Finnish butter. Not to mention, Finnish tap water is some of the best in the world. Over various kinds of smoked salmon dinner at my friend Carita's house in Tampere (the third largest city in Finland), we chatted about happiness WITH her hubby Janne (who had prepared the dinner for us):
Me: Finnish people were ranked the #1 country for Happiness by the World Happiness Report in 2018 and again in 2019. 2018 marked the first time that they had actually asked the international migrants of 117 of the 156 countries as well. At my book launch party in Helsinki, my friend Tarja brought up the fact that while Finnish people are set up for happiness, think welfare/healthcare/maternity leave/and so on, they aren't really happy. What do you think?
Janne: Well, I think we are just happy with what we have. I mean, it wasn't so long ago that we didn't have much.
Carita: Yeah, we have everything we need here. We are proud of our house. People in our neighborhood come by and they share knowledge about how to fix things. There's no competition or keeping things from each other about how to make our house better. We are very proud of what we have.
In Finland there are approximately 5.5 million people and 2 million saunas. WHAT?! You can read about the sauna culture in Finland here. Most Finnish people have saunas in their homes or in their backyards like Carita and Janne. While we were chatting at dinner, he quietly snuck out to prepare the sauna for us to enjoy. In between dinner and dessert, we stripped down naked--not just without clothes--but without any kind of mental filters, and shared our deepest secrets WITH each other. She told me about her life before she had met Janne and I told her about my mom's dementia. To cool off, we went outside. The Finns traditionally jump into a cold lake; in this instance since it might have been too much for me, we chatted more under the stars just outside her sauna.
Perhaps that is where the bonding time comes not just WITH themselves, but WITH other people. It is so embedded in the fabric of Finnish culture, my friend Ilkka has told me that he often has original ideas and epiphanies during his own sauna time WITH himself.
SISU (WITH A PINCH OF SALT)
"I am not like other Finns--I don't really care what others think of me," Tiina admitted. She was a life coach and had lost her husband several years ago. In her Winning Mindset workshop that I attended two days before, she talked about how her elementary school teacher had told her she was "stupid" over a period of five years until it became a limiting belief. With a sometimes over-critical mom, I could totally empathize WITH her. We began talking about Sisu, the Finnish notion of "Grit." I told her about my friend Emilia (whom I write about in my book too), and how she had run the equivalent of 50 marathons across the length of New Zealand to raise awareness of InterPersonal Violence--something she had overcome in her own life. I remember meeting Emilia in Palo Alto and how she told me, "You know, this movement is so much bigger than me. My body is just the vessel."
Over tea and korvapuusti (the Finnish answer to the cinnamon roll), I spoke WITH Aida. She was a motivational speaker who had survived the war in Sarajevo and was now battling her own daily "wars" WITH grace, positivity, and deep insight. As her 8 year-old son Daris affectionately hugged me, I listed to her take on the Finns, " Well, you know, I have lived here for 25 years, and I love Finland. I am not saying anything bad about Finnish people, but they try not to step on people's toes, so they often don't say what they need to say and repress it." Perhaps too much Sisu was not necessarily a good thing as Emilia says in this BBC article.
BALANCE (BEGINS AT 5PM)
Over a quick catch up at a Middle Eastern-Scandinavian restaurant, Ilkka and I broke bread together. I asked him how he was doing and he said, "Hilma (his 5 year-old daughter) is doing well. She is still ice-skating. Work is going really well. I have more balance now." He was referring to how he can leave work at 5PM, pick up Hilma from ice-skating and spend more time WITH his family. I recalled how Carita (who runs a startup) told me how she and her team usually leave at 5PM. And Tarja telling me how she would pick blueberries in the forest for her smoothies when walking her dog. It got me thinking: maybe it was the system that allowed for happiness, but perhaps it was up to the person to really balance all of the elements that go into Finnish-ing Happy: salmon, sauna, and sisu.
*Thank you Finnish friends and Finland for inspiring all of us to Finnish happier.*