When I visited Sweden recently, I noticed that people just seemed content. Everyone was outside all the time. People just enjoyed the sunshine, walked along the water, exercised and picnicked. The general happiness I noticed could have simply been because I visited in late May, a beautiful spring month after a winter with few, if any, daylight hours. Even with the crazy lack of sunshine during the winter, Swedes are a happy people.
Sweden earned a slot as the second happiest country in the world, according to the Better Life Index, compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The survey ranked more than 30 developed countries on criteria such as income levels, health, safety and housing—all of which can affect the number of happy people.
We all know you can’t really measure happiness. But if you tried to pinpoint why Swedes are such happy people, these five reasons are a good start. And they just might make you want to move to Sweden.
1. Sense of community
Swedes are a tight knit group. The OECD survey found that Sweden overall had a high sense of community with 92 percent of people believing that they know someone who they could rely on in a time of need. Swedish friendliness might even be able to beat out the famous Midwestern friendliness here in the U.S. I never had a bad experience in Sweden. Everyone in general was extremely friendly and always willing to help.
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2. Culture of coffee
Swedes like their coffee breaks, and it might just make them happier too. There’s no real data behind this, but it makes sense. It's not just about the coffee break. It's about taking time to pause and enjoy life as happy people. Swedes like drinking coffee with friends so much that they created a word just for the act. Called fika, Swedes regularly stop throughout their busy weeks to visit with friends, family and coworkers over coffee and cake.
3. Love of nature
With only 9.3 million Swedes in almost 174,000 square miles, Sweden offers plenty of the great outdoors for Swedes to enjoy. And, that means a better quality of life and more happy people. The Right of Public Access or Allemansrätt in Sweden gives anyone the right to roam the countryside where they like. Swedes and tourists can hike, bike, fish, camp, swim, sail and just in general explore wherever they want—even private land. Many Swedes even own their own houses in the country, so they can get away and enjoy nature.
4. Shorter work week
It’s probably no surprise to you that long work hours may impair health, jeopardize safety and increase stress. Maybe that’s why Swedes in general have a better sense of wellbeing and seem to be happy people: They work fewer hours. People in Sweden receive a minimum of five weeks of paid vacation per year. Five weeks! That’s not to mention paid parental leave of up to 480 days between the two parents. People in Sweden work 1,644 hours a year, less than the OECD average of 1,776 hours. And, only about one percent of Swedes say they work very long hours, compared to the OECD average of nine percent. Unsurprisingly, Americans work more than the OECD average with 1,787 hours and 11 percent working long hours.
5. Living green
I may be a little biased with this one, but of course living green makes you happier, and Swedes know how to do it. From organic food to sustainable travel, Sweden is an eco-friendly country. You know that long morning commute spent sitting in your car on a highway that looks more like a parking lot? It doesn’t exactly make happy people, does it? In Sweden, many people don’t even need to own a car. The buses, trains and trams can get you pretty much anywhere, even the smaller towns. If that doesn’t work there’s also the ferries to get you around. Besides public transportation, Swedes also have a higher than average access to clean air and water, according to the OECD survey. The European Union even named Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, as its first European Green Capital, an award for cities that show a consistent record of achieving high environmental standards.
What do you think? Time to move to Sweden?
Image: Lisa Widerberg