Did you read the latest Happiness Report? Did you feel a tingling question, “Why are the Nordic countries always in the top 10?” & “Why is Finland the happiest country?”
You are not alone
Ever since this news first came out, a couple of years ago, people all around the world have been searching for the real reasons behind this, and surprise surprise, it’s not ONLY Hygge.
Recently, I had the awesome opportunity to have a candid conversation with a Finnish blogger-podcaster, Susanna Heiskanen who writes about ‘everything Nordic’. Keep reading and get a real look into a Finnish culture that is once again, in 2022 the happiest country in the world.
Do you smell that?
The coffee is brewing & the cake is sitting on the kitchen counter.
Grab both and have a Fika with me.
Fika: (in Swedish custom) a break from activity during which people drink coffee, eat cakes or other light snacks, and relax with others.
First, Let us Talk About Susanna & How I Met Her
For a few years now, Nordic countries have become the hotspot for finding happiness, peace, and quality of life.
Everyone in the world wants to know how a country that sees such harsh winters with no or limited sunlight for months is the number 1 country for happiness. I have been searching for answers myself.
This search led me to Susanna. I am glad to have had this opportunity to talk about Finland and many other Nordic culture nuances with this Nordic Mum.
Meet Susanna: A warm, friendly podcaster and blogger who currently lives in Australia with her English husband and 2 boys. She is also a dog mom and very soon we will see her first book published on Finnish culture. Though she lives in Australia now, her love for Finland, or more so, of Nordic culture is evident in her blog – The Nordic Mum: Nordic Lifestyle Blog.
Her podcasts and blogs have a lot of great nibbles on the Nordic way of living. And guess what, she is currently writing her first book which she hopes to be out this year. Her book will cover Finnish culture and I am so glad about that. Most books right now in the market talk about Scandinavia and not about Nordic or specific country culture.
The first thing that I had to ask Sussanna was why she agreed to the interview at 6 am in Australia? I need a good 3 hours of me-time after waking up and here she was talking to me about the culture of Finland with ease. She laughed and said, “I am mostly up at 5 am as the dog needs his walk. Since today was my husband’s turn, I was free to take a call at 6 am before the kids are up.” I am not sure if this is a Finnish thing or her thing, but I am inspired that I am trying to wake up at 5 am now.
Without any further ado, let’s get right to the cheese…
Sheetal: Susanna I am currently reading a book – SISU and I am curious how would you describe SISU. Also, how can someone use their SISU?
Susanna: SISU is nothing but our inner strength. We all have it and the only difference is that we are not calling it SISU. In easier words, it is pushing through the discomfort and pain. It is about ignoring the pain and pushing it aside and telling oneself that I can do it, I will be fine.
Some examples :
- You are running a marathon and it’s the last lap. Your body is going through a lot of pain but you are pushing through.
- You are struggling with some task at hand and you tell yourself “I will work through this”
- A friend is struggling and you will say “Tap into your SISU”
- You would hear people yelling at athletes during games to boost their strength “USE SISU”
Sheetal: Would you say that people from Finland have more SISU than the rest of the world?
Susanna: From a very young age, SISU is in fact taught in school in Finland; what it means and how you would tap into it. People are conscious of it. Also, Finnish people have overcome challenges for centuries. One can say that they don’t easily get discouraged and are more determined. It is also a fact that schools are teaching us since childhood that nothing is impossible.
Sheetal: It makes sense. Since most parts of the country are in darkness for a long time, parents & schools are intelligent to teach kids grit. I feel there can be two scenarios for parents around the world. Don’t worry, summer is around the corner, or ya we know it’s cold but you can handle it. I see how different Finnish culture is instead of being hopeful, teaches to tap into your SISU.
Susanna: This is completely true. Usually, you can say that they don’t get discouraged very often. They are also more determined as they are taught since childhood that nothing is impossible.
Finnish Education & Childhood
Sheetal: One thing that is famous about Finland is its school system. I often say, our childhood has a way of designing our coming life. Whatever we learn, experience and suffer creates an internal story for us. Is that why school systems and childcare, in general, are been given this much importance in Nordic culture?
Susanna: Yes, childhood is a very special time in life. In Finland, the children are free to explore. The innocence of childhood is important for people there and they try to preserve it for as long as they can. I call the Australian culture of raising kids nanny culture – don’t do this, don’t do that. This can suffocate the kids. We protect them so much that they don’t get to experience the full range of childhood.
I grew up outside of the town in Finland and I remember that even as 7 years old, I was biking around the whole day and my parents would never care about that. We would go to the forest, pick berries, and honestly, I felt like a wild child. Even now, my cousins, kids are living the same way in Finland. sadly, we can’t do that everywhere else in the world due to safety concerns for our kids.
A big question we are contemplating right now in our house is if we can let the kids bike outside our street. I do not feel comfortable doing that yet but I still try to give them as much freedom as I can. Even though it is in a protected way.
Sheetal: What do you say about kids who might go through a tough childhood in Finland.
Susanna: Even though childhood is fun in Finland, there will be incidents you did not like. Maybe your childhood was not perfect, perhaps you did not have things or had more problems than your friends.
There comes a point in life when you just have to let it go. You will always tell yourself, no parent is perfect, life is not perfect and that is okay.
Sheetal: What is your favorite childhood memory from Finland?
Susanna: Picking berries, Stealing strawberries from neighbor’s bush. (she laughed ) I would give it to mom for making me a strawberry shake. For a child, it’s innocent & notorious that you just pick it. Even though it’s not allowed, you can eat it. It is still a fond memory.
Even now, every time I smell the strawberries, I think of that time. Every time I smell pine trees, I am transcended back to my grandparent’s sauna.
Kids should remain just kids in their childhood.
Sheetal: That is just wonderful. There is also a lot of news on Nordic school systems and it’s widely famous for being very different than other countries.
Susanna: That is very true. In Finland, school starts when kids turn 7 years old and finish at 16. When you are 7 years old, you only have a few hours of school, and every year it gradually increases. The method is to slowly introduce kids to studies.
The system allows kids to explore the world through play and it is believed that by doing this, they will also be academically more aligned. Even with this kind of system, kids complete school life with expertise in education. Which in turn allows them to work anywhere in the country or anywhere else in the world.
After school, you can go to uni, apprenticeship, internship, or other programs of your choice. And the best part is that everything is free. In fact, Uni gives a study fee to manage the expenses. Also, people can study for their whole lives and it will still be free for them. Back in my time, when I was in uni, people were finishing education at 27 years. It has now tightened a bit.
Sheetal: I have a hard time imagining that this system of free education and study fee is not abused at all in the country.
Susanna: (Laughed) It’s common that you can find drivers who are a Ph.D. of something. But see, at the end of the day they have a Ph.D. which is very impressive. They can choose to change their field and get into something they want to work in.
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Equality A Way Of Life
Sheetal: One other fact that is very impressive about Finland is equality. I have read that Finland has the highest rate of women in politics. While a lot of countries are trying to manage this gap, it seems like Nordic countries and mostly Finland is ahead of their time. I am interested to know if it has always been like this or the country modernized itself faster than the rest of the world.
Susanna: I will say it’s always been like this. When I was a child, the prime minister of Norway was a female and there were many female politicians. The kids here are taught from a young age that they are the equal sex and everyone can do anything that a man can do. And this clearly ripples in every other part of life.
As you know, Finland was the first country to give voting rights to women. The interesting fact is that during Viking’s time as well, women had rights. They could divorce their husband and take back their dowry if they did not want to stay in marriage whereas this was unheard of in medieval England.
I can say that equality is in every aspect of Finnish life: career, workplace, home life, and its the same in all nordic countries.
Sheetal: One personal question I have is “what do people eat”. I am a culture geek and this excites me a lot. So of course, I researched a lot about Nordic food. Wonderfully enough, all I found was a lot of cake, recipes with a lot of cream and butter. Since Nordic is also high on the healthiness scale, this confused me a lot. What is the secret here? Are people eating something else and posting something else?
Susanna: (laughed): The Nordic lifestyle is based on meat and fish. Potatoes are our main carbohydrates except for bread. We use different kinds of bread which are available as a complement to the meal. Plus, we always have fresh vegetables. The countries at large also believe in things like full-fat stuff, wholemeal flour, Whole rye flour.
We don’t follow the 80s fad which fashioned around the world and was promoting low salt, low fat. Somehow people forgot that good fat could be really good. Here, everything is in moderation. There is a balance between what is good and how much one should eat.
Also, everything is fresh. People might go fishing themselves, forage mushrooms & berries from the forest and that is a typical Nordic food culture. There are health problems also and diabetes & obesity is rising. But generally, when I visit Finland, I feel that people there do look healthier than here in Australia. Also, they walk a lot!
Sheetal: This was wonderful. As the last question, what could be a few tips that everyone else can use to get more happy or content in their lives?
Susanna: Anyone can do these few things to include more Nordicness into their lives
- Don’t hurry for everything. Take your time with things and enjoy the hygge which means feeling cozy.
- Eat healthy, whole meals and whole foods rather than processed food.
- Have a little butter in your cooking
- Don’t bring shoes inside
- Read & embrace nordic culture through books, series, and tap into the melancholy of the nordic culture. One should tap into the dark side of the culture as well
- Eat lots of berries & fresh fruits.
Still curious about Nordic culture? Listen to these Podcasts from Susanna –
Or simply go to her blog for many interesting reads – The Nordic Mum
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