Why this Aussie has moved to one of the coldest places on Earth

Although notorious for its bland food and long, harsh winters, Finland has been crowned as the happiest country in the world for the fourth year running - in the middle of a global pandemic.

Melissa and her family in Finland.

Melissa and her family in Finland. Source: SBS

Australian Melissa Georgiou moved to Finland more than a decade ago, seeking happiness in one of the coldest – and darkest - places on earth.

“One of my favourite things about living here is whether you’re in a residential area or in the middle of the city it’s easy to access nature,” Melissa says.

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Originally a schoolteacher, she swapped Sydney’s beaches for Finland’s dark winters and icy lakes 11 years ago and hasn’t looked back since.

“For Finnish people the idea of happiness is very different to an Australian’s idea of happiness,” says Melissa.

She says Finns embrace depictions of themselves as melancholic, and reserved - a popular local saying goes, “the one who has happiness must hide it.”

“One of the first things I noticed about being here was that you’re not going to a dinner party or a BBQ and talking about real estate. Nobody's asking about where you live, which suburb you live, where your kid is going to school.

“Finnish people seem to be quite satisfied with the way things are, and they don't seem to want more constantly,” Melissa says.


Nordic noir


The UN World Happiness Report ranks 138 countries according to their citizen’s levels of happiness.

Since its inception, Nordic nations have dominated the top 10.

“Nordic countries tend to be countries where there are [good] unemployment benefits, pensions, and other benefits,” explains happiness expert and researcher Frank Martela.


Frank Martela happiness expert enjoying an icy dip in the sea.
Frank Martela happiness expert enjoying an icy dip in the sea. Source: SBS


But Frank says Finland’s position often comes as a surprise to its own people.

“Finnish people, they were almost angry because they felt that this cannot be true. We listen to sad music, and hard rock...

“So happiness was not part of the Finnish self-image.”

The other side of the Finns’ melancholy is a cultural focus on perseverance which Frank says has redefined the way Finns view happiness - a concept called sisu.

He says its best embodied in the nation’s favourite pass-time - warming up in a sauna after an ocean dip in below freezing temperatures.

“It's about this contradiction - there's something from going from one extreme to the other which is quite an interesting experience … because you need perseverance.” 

A state built on trust

But there is a lot about Finland that is great and contributes to the country’s happiness, Melissa says.

Finland has been one of the least affected European countries by the pandemic, which experts attribute to the high trust in government and little resistance to following restrictions.

And trust in the government stems from the state’s investment in their citizens.

The public school system, which rarely tests children, is among the best in the world. Finland also has a universal health care system, with affordable childcare and robust support for parents.

Melissa Georgiou with her husband, Makke, and son, Milo at a Finnish pastime – ice skating.
Melissa Georgiou with her husband, Makke, and son, Milo at a Finnish pastime – ice skating. Source: SBS


Melissa says, “the whole country takes care of the raising of children and the system is set up so well. So, from birthing my son to bringing him up at home and then sending him to day-care and then onto school, every aspect of that felt really well supported.” 



 

 






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3 min read
Published 15 June 2021 at 6:01am
By Hareem Khan
Source: SBS