Richard Turen
Richard Turen

Forgive me if I do not write about Covid-19 and its impact this week. Yes, it's a big story, like a piece of shattered glass with millions of sharp writing angles. But I've had it with negativism. Today, I want to talk with you about those places that seem to have mastered the art of happiness.

Travelers are going through a reprioritization process, and we need to play a pivotal role as they consider a new set of travel options moving forward. Safety will be a primary concern but so will be the ability to get away from negative thinking, glasses half empty and a political environment that, on its best days, is toxic and stressful.

To listen to the tourism boards, every country is filled with optimism, hope and a citizenry that looks forward to every waking hour. But there is a more fact-based way to seek out the best places on Earth for those seeking a positive attitude and an acceptance of the good life achieved.

The United Nations' annual World Happiness Report uses a variety of health, safety, education and lifestyle metrics, together with population samples, to determine which countries seem to be packed with the most satisfied, happiest residents.

In the 2020 report, for the third year in a row, Finland was named the world's happiest country. The reasons seem to center around all the normal stuff, with the addition of a kind of worship of those who educate Finnish children.

It isn't all that easy to become a teacher in Finland. You must, at minimum, have a master's degree (time-consuming to obtain but not all that expensive, as all education is completely paid for by the government).

When I send clients to Finland, I make it clear that I do not want any private guides assigned whose sole passion is Finnish history. My clients don't share that passion. My clients do not speak Finnish, and they have little interest in anything about Finland that is older than the explanation as to why it houses Earth's happiest people. 

Getting inside the Finnish head is not so easy. The open spaces and endless nothingness outside the cities do not seem designed to attract visitation, let alone spread a happy state of mind. Ask a Finn why the people are so happy and you will likely get a response that explains he/she doesn't think they are any happier than other people, but then they will add, "I think, perhaps, that we have less to worry about than many other countries."

The cynic could point out that when the next-door neighbor is Putin's Russia, there is always something to worry about, but Finns don't seem to see it that way.

Perhaps that is what happiness is all about. Denmark is the second-happiest country, Norway the fifth. These are not destinations known for smiling, laughing, crowd-pleasing, gregarious locals who go out of their way to welcome visitors from abroad. No, I think happiness may be rooted in something different than an outgoing demeanor. It is something much more internal; it is a lack or a severe reduction in things to worry about, things like housing, job security, great healthcare and exemplary education standards.

There is, of course, an entirely different theory about the source of Finland's happiness. It is said that 73% of the country is forested, a canopy of oak, fir and birch trees. A huge, beautiful blanket hugging the Finns and making them feel secure.

Let's talk about travel to "happy places" again soon. Be safe and be well. 

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