One can joke that in Finland we hide this happiness deep inside us so as not to annoy our Swedish neighbors. Other more rational voices argue that the happiness index does not measure happiness! Rather, it measures the confidence we have in the future and the extent to which we worry about what may or may not happen in it.
There are two dark clouds over the Finnish story of happiness – both dark enough to make us doubt the whole story of happiness. The first is the number of antidepressants we use in Finland. In 2019, more than 400,000 people in Finland received compensation for antidepressants from Kela every year. About 50-70 percent of users use drugs to treat depression. We are not alone – Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Iceland are also among the 10 happiest countries in the world and among the 10 countries that consume the most antidepressants in Europe. Such characters bring out a certain dark humor: are pills the secret to our happiness or does too much happiness drive us into depression?
Another dark cloud shading the sun of our happiness is the huge number of work-related burnouts in Finland. According to the 2018 work conditions survey conducted by Statistics Finland, the fear of burnout doubled between 2013 and 2018. Four years ago, 15 percent of wage earners experienced a clear serious burnout risk, while in 2013 the corresponding figure was 7 percent. About a quarter of Finnish working-age suffer from “mild burnout” and 2-3% suffer from severe burnout. Sweden has a similar situation. But the number of people diagnosed with clinical burnout has grown rapidly in recent years, and it is the most common reason Swedes are absent from work in 2018, according to the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. over 20 % of sickness allowance cases in all age groups. The bad news doesn’t end there. Another scientific study on parental burnout shows that Finnish parents are the seventh most burned-out parents among those in 42 countries by researchers who are part of an international research consortium. BParent.
Why? How? In the happiest country? How can we interpret all this? What can we do about it? How can we be more and truly happy in the happiest country? Here are some thoughts and ideas.
Empathy and support
I feel that there are two reasons for much of the anti-depressants we use: 1) low levels of empathy in society and 2) insufficient psychiatric help. The former perhaps deals with the historical layers of the Finnish mentality, where much was said about enduring adversity in a stubborn, quiet, distant and individualistic way. Now, so many years later, the difficulties are considerably less, but the approach remains the same on many levels. We are not that interested in each other and we do not tolerate people who can share their frustrations, difficulties or misfortunes. It has become especially difficult since the arrival of the “positive thinking” hype. Make no mistake – I’m a big proponent and preacher of positive thinking myself. Still, I understand the danger that anyone who wants to share or air dark thoughts and complain is too quickly branded, to put it politely, as a “choke”. As a result, many people fall victim to the “happiness” competition – nobody feels good about being labeled as unhappy, and many feel guilty about being unhappy in the happiest country. Unheard, unable to share and discuss, and unable to receive support from family and friends, we try to find support in our great health care system. But here we are subject to that magical efficiency formula. Complaints to the doctor with a limited time and aiming for extreme efficiency such as “I can’t take it anymore” “I feel constant anxiety” or “I can’t get enough sleep” give the doctor a quick solution: “try the pill”. If blue doesn’t work, we have other colors! It is an effective system that unfortunately addresses the symptoms but not the causes.
Less work-related burnout
I myself am in management training and I can testify and confirm: a large part of Finnish companies have the well-being of their employees very close to their hearts. The matter is taken seriously and significant investments are made in the well-being of the personnel; Be it fitness subscriptions, leadership programs, wellness initiatives, etc. And yet, here we are. What can be done? There are no easy answers or silver bullets that I can share. But I know two things can help a lot: 1) more excitement and risk-taking, 2) more of the aforementioned mutual empathy. The first one is perhaps a bit contradictory. Many Finnish work environments are extremely risky, monotonous, efficiency-oriented environments that value, cherish and praise comfort and stability – this is how many understand psychological safety. But such comfort kills! It kills the thrill and joy of taking risks, pushing, trying, and eventually and sometimes failing. Thus, business leaders need to significantly reevaluate their attitudes toward risk-taking and failure. They need to focus on developing a more exciting company culture where we, try new cool things and make many of them /but not all/ happen while having fun along the way! This is where increasing empathy can certainly help – not just empathy between managers and employees, but between all of us. This renewed corporate culture must also develop and nurture mutual empathy every day. It’s not rocket science – it’s about remembering we’re not robots, some production units wait for instructions and deliver KPIs. It’s about the simple things, giving feedback and asking the simple question “how are you?” where we also take care of the answer.
Surely these are only some of the possible remedies. Many other perspectives and perspectives help us map bottlenecks and find solutions. Living in the happiest country is indeed a matter of both pride and joy! But we won’t make the mistake of thinking “mission accomplished,” and instead will look more closely at how each of us, how our institutions and companies can and must try to provide more of the authentic happiness we all deserve.
Peter Zashev is an academic, entrepreneur and philanthropist who works as a program director at Hanken & SSE Executive Education. Originally from Bulgaria and a citizen of Finland, Peter’s area of expertise includes leadership, change and building effective teams. His experience is based on more than 15 years of management training, having worked in the management of large companies in the Nordic countries, the Baltics and Russia.
This is an “Outlook” opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the views or position of The Helsinki Times. This column has not been verified and HT is not responsible for any inaccurate or incorrect statements in this article.
Source: The Nordic Page