Finland has a lot to smile about.
The Scandinavian country landed the top spot on the United Nations’ World Happiness Report, released Wednesday.
The list, which ranks countries based on account income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity, according to the website, found the same countries as last year to be the 10 happiest, though some have switched positions.
The top 10 for 2018 are, in order: Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden and Australia.
Scandinavian countries have dominated the list for years. In the last four reports, the top spot was claimed by Denmark, Norway, Finland and Switzerland (which is not in Scandinavia).
So what is it about these countries that makes their residents so content? Surprisingly, one factor might be the chilly weather.
When Norway won last year, one of the study’s editors told Time magazine that the frigid climate and long, dark winters may actually have had a positive influence on residents’ perceived well-being.
“There is a view which suggests that historically communities that lived in harsher weather were brought together by greater mutual support,” Professor John Helliwell said. “You see this with farming communities as well, who will get together to pull a barn roof up. They don’t ask about who’s paying what. So the colder climate of the Northern [European] countries might actually make social support easier.” Less competition at work and better support for those without a job are also big factors, according to Dr. Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, who worked on the 2017 report and spoke to Time.
In Finland, economic factors are a major influence, too. The country has a high GDP and high taxes — which support social programs — and free or low-cost higher education and healthcare. Plus, life expectancy is very high: 78 for men and 84 for women, according to 2015 data from the World Health Organization.
The most unexpected reason for Scandinavians’ apparent contentment, however, is that they have lower expectations for their own happiness.
“If we are talking heel-kicking, cocktail-umbrella joie de vivre, then the Danes do not score highly, and I suspect not even they would take their claims that far,” Michael Booth, author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, wrote of Denmark (2013, 2014 and 2016’s happiest country) in The Atlantic in 2015. “But if we are talking about being contented with one’s lot, then the Danes do have a more convincing case to present.”
In other words, they don’t strive to be extremely happy, and as a result, they’re happier with less.
The United States, for the record, came in 18th, right above the United Kingdom. The unhappiest countries of the 156 ranked were South Sudan, Central African Republic and Burundi.