The Happiest Place on Earth

‘Finland was named the world’s happiest country by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network in April 2018, based on polling results from 156 nations. And a second survey found that Kauniainen’s 9,600 residents were the most satisfied in Finland, leading the local mayor, Christoffer Masar, to joke that theirs was the happiest town on earth.’   Patrick Kingsley, The NewYork Times,  

 

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Christoffer Masar, Mayor of Kauniainen

 

 

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415A9292Andy with Jimmy 

 

The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Capercaillie

 

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Cedric
 
 
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 Grankula Football Team, under 14s
 
 
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Nino, Aaro, Atte, at the DigiLab  
 
 
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Taru Koskinen, Head of IT System, developer of learning environments, DigiLab
 
 
 
 
  
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Volunteer Fireman, Grankula Volunteer Fire Service
 
 
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Grankula Volunteer Fire Service
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Firewall
 
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Sports Centre, Underground Nuclear Bunker, Kauniainen 
  
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Gym equipment
  
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Marko (wide)                                                Marko
 
 
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Jan Sten, Grankulla Football Club 
  
  
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Roger Renman, Rector,The Adult Education Centre, Kauniainen
 
 
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Weaver
                        
 
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 Garden Sculptures, Kauniainen School of Art
 
 
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Bernt & Marie-Louise Paqvalen
 
 
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Bernt Paqvalén with mother & brother, family portrait
 
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Bernt's gran-daughter
 
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Portrait 
 
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Kai sml
 Kai Lähdesmäki, Chairman of Kauniainen Finnish Seniors
 
 
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Kai and Pirkko, Finnish Seniors Club
 
 
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Grankulla Music Institute. Villa Vallmogård was previously the home of Finland’s national poet Mikael Lybeck. It was built in1907. 
  
 
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Heta, on viola 
 
 
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Katri, on violin  
 
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Violinist
  
  
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Saga Nyren  
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Saga sml
 
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Lars-Michaël, ‘Micke’, with family, founder of Trahus, specialising in renovating traditional wooden houses in Finland
   
 
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Saga and Evelyn 
 
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Porchway with Klee
 
 
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Risto Ilmoniemi, Professor of Applied Physics, Aalto University 
  
   
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Frank Martela, Ph.D. in Applied Philosophy and Organisational Research, Aalto University, Finland. 

 
  

Project Statement

According to the World Happiness Report, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network ranks the four Nordic countries as the top five happiest nations, with Finland, which headed the table for the last two year, coming out top for the third year running. The question posed by the report is: ‘It’s easy to see how civil war and insurgencies can bring misery to people, but what really makes a happy nation?’ The report points out that it’s not just about money, even though the top ten countries are all affluent. The survey uses a three-year rolling average of survey responses around six key factors: GDP per capita; social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and corruption levels. Finland scores well on all factors but particularly strongly on generosity. Almost half of Finns donate regularly to charity and almost a third said they had given up time to volunteer for a charity in the previous month. It is the country’s social safety net combined with personal freedom and a good work-life balance that gives it the edge. A second survey ranked Kauniainen as the most satisfied city in Finland for the third year in a row.

With this in mind I arranged to visit the city to meet those that live here, to talk to them about their experience of living in Kauniainen and why they think that their city rates so highly in terms of life satisfaction. Kauniainen (in Swedish Grankula, in English Fir Hill) is a municipality of about nine & a thousand inhabitants, that lies within the Helsinki Metropolitan area. It is surrounded by the City of Espoo, Greater Helsinki. Kauniainen has had a reputation of being filled with authors, artists and large wooden villas set in lush woodland. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century this area was mostly woodland and shrub, crossed by paths & tracks. The early pioneers of the town built summer villas by the Galltrask lake and the train station opened in 1908. The Grankulla Company, founded in 1906, brought up land and re-sold it stimulating growth. Authors & artists were drawn to the area, creating a cosmopolitan culture. The Kauniainen School of Art was founded in 1978 and is the oldest school of art in Finland. Kauniainen was founded by people with vision: to live near to nature and make decisions together.

My photographic method was to meet and talk to as varied a cross section of the community as possible, to form a portrait of the city. The common message I received was that the municipality is closely knit, has an excellent infrastructure and is built on a bedrock of trust. Satu tells me that Kauniainen is a safe place. The young violinist agrees: “You don’t feel scared, even waking home at night.” Heidi, Head of Education, explains to me that the education system in Finland is based on trust. The three boys I meet at the centre all have keys to the building and can come & go as they like. She tells me that Finnish schools have one of the highest education standards globally. She talks about increasing compassion, that this is essential to healthy living and healthy communities. The volunteer firemen run a programme to teach young kids fire fighting skills; when they turn 18 they can go out on a call. They are very proud of their early fire fighting teaching: “this is how I became a volunteer fire man” one of them tells me. Roger welcomes me to Petra Adult Education Centre, taking me on a tour, starting with a large church-like room. He informs me that they have yoga and gymnastics, English classes, ceramics, a tapestry weaving room, glass making, arts & crafts, line dancing, gymnastics for improving balance,  music gymnastics for children, porcelain-painting workshop, yoga for stiff muscles, mindfulness-based eating awareness, yoga for parents and children, ashtanga yoga – in fact anything that anyone wants to set up. Saga tells me that it’s a very safe city: here in Kauniainen you see examples of if someone loses something people will pick to up and place it where someone can see it, they’ll take a picture and they’ll place it on the Facebook group; kids are very safe, they can walk anywhere; we seldom have any incidents. And Kai, Chairman of the Finnish Seniors Group, tells me this is a place where people are proud of being the third generation Kauniainen. He adds that the social adhesion is the glue and that the Finnish people are very comfortable with the life and the nationality feeling is very high.

 

 

The following transcript is summarised from interview notes taken in conversation with Frank Martela, in response to question asked by Barry Falk as part of his project researching happiness and well-being in Kauniainen.

  • Frank has a Ph.D. in Applied Philosophy and Organisational Research and is author of four books, including the recently released ‘A Wonderful Life: Insights for Finding a Meaningful Existence’. Frank also gave a TedX Talk on ‘The Meaning of Life: What Makes Life Worth Living?’
  • Frank tells me he is a cross-disciplinary researcher with PhDs in both philosophy (University of Helsinki) and organisational research (Aalto University). He specialises in the question of what makes life good: what are the fundamentals of happiness, meaningfulness, and human basic needs? Frank is also a key expert on happiness of nations and why Finland and other Nordic countries are ranked so highly in terms of global happiness, writing a chapter about the topic for the latest World Happiness Report.
  • “Happiness is so vague that it can mean different things to different people but life satisfaction is more precise in asking people to evaluate their general satisfaction with their current life.” Frank is part of a research group looking into meaning and well-being. One project is focussed on compassion which he explains to me is “the use of empathy and perspective-taking to understand someone’s pain and then being motivated to and finding a way to respond to it.” The research group has also explored co-passion as being about responding to someone’s positive experiences too. It is, in other words, an active attempt to respond positively to other’s joy, thus supporting a richer understanding between each other.
  • Frank tells me that the World Happiness Report is based on a simple survey: ‘on a scale of 1 to 10 where the top represents the best possible life and the bottom the worst possible life, where would you put your life?’ He agrees that based on this question, Finland and other Nordic countries are probably the happiest in the world but qualifies this by telling me that this question is about general life satisfaction rather than about experiencing joy and other positive emotions. Reasons for high levels of happiness in Finland have to do with lack of inequality, functioning institutions, and that people have good access to facilities such as social support and housing. In terms of education, he says there is a lot of trust: teachers are much freer to decide what to teach, rather than adhering to a strict curriculum, yet education standards are still very high.
  • What Frank tells me correlates with what I have been told in Kauniainen. Heidi Backman, Head of Education, explains to me that the education system in Finland is based upon trust. She tells me that Finnish schools have one of the highest education standards globally. She also talks about increasing compassion, that this is essential to healthy living and healthy communities. Likewise Roger Renman Rector at The Adult Education Centre of Kauniainen, tells me that Finns are more reticent to claim they are happy. He later sends me ‘The Song of Happiness’ by Eino Leino that perfectly encapsulates this sense of reserved happiness.

 

Interview notes with Saga Nyren: candidate in the Finnish parliamentary elections 2019 for the Pirate Party in Helsinki district, mother of two, social activist & active societal debatteur, technical project manager in IT and student at Aalto University School of Science in the Information Networks program. 

  • I have met many people in Kauniainen who seem very happy to be here; they tell me there’s a good infrastructure, there’s an art school, there’s a good school, most people seem very safe and happy. I want to know what it’s like for you being a single mother with two children? Well I’ve joked around about moving here to equal out the social structure. I was a student with one child when we moved here and Kauniainen zip-code used to be in the top ten richest; I was dirt poor and I was joking that we’re moving here for the greater good, to stabilise the socio economic structure here. It was just me and Evelyn, who was four years old, and we moved into student housing right on the border. She was going to daycare here and I was studying. Evelyn turns twelve this summer; we’ve been here eight years. We’ve moved many times within Kauniainen; we kind of wanted to stay here: as a single mother it’s a very good place to live.
  • Did you have family in Kauniainen? - No not in Kauniainen but close by and my sister is a little further away but it’s by the train station.
  • And you have another child? - Yes, Ossian. I had him by sperm donor, so a single mum by choice. He’s actually special as he was born in Kauniainen because I gave birth at home whereas most people give birth in the hospital; he’s one of the vey few people born within the city borders as the hospital is outside the city borders.
  • So you live in a shared apartment? - Yes, it’s me and my kids; there’s another mum with her child, and then there’s a young single guy, a son of an acquaintance of mine. There are six people there now.
  • So in terms of the infrastructure is it a good place to live? - Yes, everything is close by, the city has really great public services, it’s a well funded city because of the socio-economic structure.
  • Is it difficult to live here in terms of the cost of living? - It is higher in terms of cost of living; the rents jump a bit at the border and if you’re buying an apartment then they jump a lot. And then it’s a risky investment because they’re always talking about it should lose its status as an independent city and just be a part of Espoo.
  • Yes, because it’s a very tiny municipality, its not really a city - Yes, so if you buy an apartment and they decide to do that then 20% of the value is going to be wiped out. And the house here, many of then are really big.
  • Around the lake they have the massive villas. - But then the schools are great, health services are great, any interest that you have you can find here. There’s a playground and a parkour; they try to have something for everyone here. Around the lake there’s also a playground and then there’s a gym for adults right next to it
  • And the community spirit is good? – Yes. I used to work at the cafe over there and about half the customers were regulars and everybody knew me.
  • So are there any issues here, because so far it just seems like a very happy town? - The first place we lived in was city housing and student housing combined and there was someone there with drug issues, drug use; rumours were that she’s from a rich family but something went south and her behaviour was very odd, very irrational.
  • But you don’t have any homelessness here? - There’s a homeless guy; he hangs around the train station a lot. There’s also a rumour about him that he’s also from a rich family.
  • And in terms of multi-ethnicity and diversity, you have refugees here? - Yes, we’ve started to take in ten refugees per year on a municipal placement which means that the city is committed to finding them apartments. Congolese families were the first ones, we have Afghans as well, there’s an Iraqi family: it’s starting to be a little bit more diverse but it’s been very homogenous up to recently.
  • So tell me more about your politics, your activism, because you’ve got  a blog site and you stood for Finnish Parliament for the Pirate Party? - Yes, I’ve been interested in the Pirate Party for six or seven years now; I don’t remember when I officially joined.There’s a lot of focus on information society and how individual freedoms are expressed within that context; there’s a lot of tech focus: how our rights are being taken care of on the internet. I’ve also done a lot of volunteer work with refugees and with parenting organisation; right now I’m running a daycare, a non-profit organisation; I’m the Chairperson of the Board. Running for parliament was just the natural continuation: I want to have an impact on society and work for good things. People assume I’m either in the Leftist Alliance or in the Green Party, but I’m a Pirate.
  • In terms of Finland being voted the happiest country, based on six markers, what are your thoughts on that? – It’s a very safe country. Here in Kauniainen you see examples of if someone loses something people will pick to up and place it where someone can see it, they’ll take a picture and they’ll place it on the Facebook group. Kids are very safe, they can walk anywhere; we seldom have any incidents. It’s clean here, it’s safe here, you can trust the police. - Tell me more about your work with refugees. - I work with Asylum seekers, helping them with their immigration interviews, helping them find housing, helping them find Finnish classes; I translate their mail. And it goes both ways: they babysit my kids and they helped me move house.
  • Do you think that in Finland refugees are integrated well into society? - I think we’re still working on that. A lot of my refugee friends say that it’s really really hard to get Finnish friends, because while we have this sense of community we don’t really make friends that easily; it comes very slowly, over time.
  • One of the things that a lot of people have said is that because this municipality is so happy is because it’s fifty per cent Swedish; however Sweden hasn’t been voted the happiest country so it seems a contradiction. - Yes but Finnish Swedish is a completely different thing that Swedish Swedish.
  • But what do they bring to the mix that makes it such a good blend? - A history of privilege; Swedish people come from more affluent backgrounds so they’ve been a privileged minority. And the sense of community is stronger, which may come from being a minority status. Swedish speaking Fins are closer to their families, spend more time with their extended family. They also drink less, smoke less. I have a Finnish speaking father and a Swedish speaking mother. But the Swedish speaking minority does not come from Sweden necessarily; my Swedish speaking roots come from Estonia, from 600 years ago.
  • Is it a strange thing for Finnish people to be called the happiest people? - Yes, because when Finland was voted the happiest country all the Finnish people were like no, that’s not true.
  • The stereotype is that you’r more stoic, more reserved, but then you have very long winters so you have to adapt to that. How do you get through the very long winter? - I like the fact that we have four seasons and I’ve grown up with the long winters and we always come alive in the summer. Politeness is giving the space to other people whereas in other countries politeness is reaching out, making contact.
  • Kauniainen is voted the most satisfied municipality third year running, in terms of the infrastructure and the safeness - It does come from the privileged backgrounds of the people who live here, that’s made it possible for the city to make these investments.
  • Do you still feel very much part of the community? - I’m still a little bit of an outsider. If I go to my daughter’s school I feel I’m not really a part of the group because they all grew up together; they’re born and bred here whereas I grew up outside that community, I haven’t had a lot of friends from the Finnish Swedish backgrounds because I grew up outside that and I’ve made these weird decisions in my life; they expect me to be like them because I’m Finnish-Swedish and I live here. But then when it’s very different sometimes people don’t know how to react; like having my son as a single mum by choice: it’s not something people round here would do. So people are very liberal in their political views but conservative in their personal lives: they will vote for all the gay rights but it’s taboo to make those decisions yourself.
  • How does that come across? – I feel they don’t really know how to talk about those things; they have these scripts in their heads of how small talk works and then when it doesn’t work they’re awkward.
  • So it’s more  about traditional values and traditional family here in Kauniainen? - Yes, and they’re all ten to twenty years older than me.
  • Are there other people like you here? - My room-mate but she’s not Finnish-Swedish. Living in a hippy commune, single mum by choice, Pirate Party, had my first baby at nineteen, working in the IT Sector; I’m just like all messed up!
  • I guess as a country Finland doesn’t have the same struggle as a lot of other places. In the UK we have a huge mental health issue; there’s physical health but there’s also a lot of mental health. - We have our challenges; mental health is something we’re still working on: we’ve had a lot of suicides. - What about alcoholism? - The alcoholism is terrible; it’s definitely a big problem. I don’t even know if we can blame it on the long winters. The Swedish drink as well; it’s a fun and happy thing to drink where the Fins are more like whether you win or you lose you get drunk.
  • One last question; do you have any plans to move away? -  It would be easier for me to move to another large city in Europe than to move to a very small town in Finland. I don’t know what I’d be doing in another part of the country. What I’m studying you can only study here in Espoo.
  • And also the community you’re interested in, the activists? - Yes, all that stuff happens here: the parliament is here, the centre of everything is here. We had a big protest about the Asylum Seekers in 2017 at the central railway station in Helsinki that lasted 6 or 7 months, but there were all these places in the country that were left outside of this demonstration; if I lived somewhere else it would be so much harder to participate in these things. You’ve got to be in Helsinki to do this stuff. And Kauniainen you’ve got the best of both worlds because this is a small town of about 9 thousand people and it takes 20 minutes to get to Helsinki centre, so I get to live in a small village , where everybody knows one another and it’s very safe and everything is within walking distance, and then I’m also right next to the Capital. 

 

Interview notes with Kai Lähdesmäki, Chairman of Kauniainen Finnish Seniors and Pirkko Perttula, Events Organiser, Finnish Seniors. The Finnish Seniors Club, KSS, has a very active membership of over 150 members and started its activities in 1971.

I wanted to know more about the activities of the Finnish Seniors club. I understand that there are trips abroad, there’s domestic excursions, there’s walking excursions, there’s a bridge club …

– The main thing are however the Tuesday meetings, every second week. So there you get the new information and the communality. This is the backbone of the whole system. We have guest speakers: e.g. last week we had the Finnish ex-minister of foreign affairs. We then have smaller groups, say a dozen, meeting like the walking groups every Wednesday morning; we walk five kilometres or so.

How many people are in the Finnish Seniors Club?

– The numbers have increased over the year and is now 500 members. The number of retirees in Kauniainen are growing all the time.

And this is fifties year of the Club. In terms of the health of the Seniors it sounds like you’re a very healthy society?

 Yes indeed!! The average age here is about 74 years. You can join after you have been retired; 63 is the normal time of retirement in Finland.

Finland is ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world but, more interestingly, Kauniainen is for the third year running the most satisfied municipality and I was wondering what makes it a place where people are generally very satisfied with living here?

– Kauniainen is a very young place, only 100 years old, and it came from nothing: it was summer vacation place and then it became a residential place just before the war; now it is 10 000 people and there’s actually no more space for many more people.

Is there much crossover between young families and the Seniors?

 It’s a place where people are proud of being the third generation Kauniainen; many people, employed in Helsinki area try to get a house here.

Do people tend to stay or do the young people move away when they go to university?

– They have rather high class houses so they tend to stay; sometimes they return later. Our children are happy to come here; we have both Swedish and Finnish speaking schools, up to High School, and they are rated in Finland to be in the top twenties. It’s very privileged to come to these public schools which are free of charge, state sponsored. So young families want to come back here because the schools are rather high class.This has caused the investment in children: sports is very important. The language is also important; half the children are in Finnish language schools, half in Swedish speaking schools, a mixing of the both.

Is this one of the factors that makes Kauniainen seem to be high in terms of satisfaction?

– One of the reasons for the Swedes to move to Kauniainen is that they get the services in their own mother-language. This used traditionally to be a Swedish speaking area because in the old time, the coast area was a dense population of fishermen, and most of the fishermen were of Swedish speaking origin as all the population on the western costal area. There’s a big truth in the fact that the reason Kauniainen is having happy inhabitants is that it is fifty-fifty Swedish-Finnish.

What is it about having Swedish speaking people here that makes the perfect blend?

–  They say that in the old times the Swedish speaking people were the nobles and the Finnish speaking were the peasants. The reason was that Finland was a part of Sweden almost 800 years, so the administration and the church was Swedish. One reason for the harmony between these two languages is that Finland was attacked by Soviet Union just before the world war two in 1939. The war lasted 105 days, but Finland however remained independent. 105 days that ended in 1940. The experts say that the antagonism between Swedish and Finnish speaking disappeared when both the Finnish and Swedish speaking soldiers looked through the rifle towards Russian solders while protecting the independence of Finland. saving the independence of Finland. So today the antagonism is nil. E.g. at our senior club meetings the Swedish club members may visit our meetings and vice versa.; Today we consider the bilingual society to be  a richness in terms of culture and dialogue.

Is there much difference in terms of character between the two Senior Groups?

 Actually not too much.

A lot of people I speak to in Finland are a bit confused about Finland having the title of the Happiest country; they are uncertain about what happiness means and they say that they are a lot more reserved.

– I think that social adhesion is like glue; it’s a little bit thicker by the Swedes than the Finns.

How would you describe the Finnish character? 

– Finns are a little bit more reserved; they are perhaps less social and more serious. Finns are not that talkative; there is a saying: ‘it’s only a fool who is talking nothing without a decent meaning.’ Finns think you should take the life seriously.

When I was researching coming to Finland there is a particular type of character; they talk about the Sisu and about foraging and being healthy and in nature, which seems very particular to Finland?

– It’s a sign also that Finns were individual people and protecting their domain as during the and in the War, for example, we were talking about the Sisu: the Finns kept up the fight longer than the Russians who didn’t have the same national identity. Sisu is to be determined and never giving up. It’s a Finnish word: the combination of commitment and courage. The Swedes never talk about Sisu but the Finns talk about it all the way back from the old literature and in the schools they are inheriting this system from the teachers: never give up. There is a lot of Sisu in Kauniainen: we love the nature, we love to be alone when we are thinking. The Swedish speaking Finns have the same Sisu from living here.

Kauniainen and Finland in general is rated very high in terms of global happiness however you have a very long winter.

– We don’t like the November to January months. But business goes on as usual.
In terms of health and well-being are there any things in particular that Finns struggle with? – Nowadays not any more but before electricity it was harder. Fifty years ago no one had any electricity in the country. This has changed the whole of Finland. We have a national unemployment rate of 4% but not in Kauniainen; in our town it’s nil. We do have some social issues though in our happy town, for instance someone needs some money and outside immigration, but not as a big problem. We have very few people of non-Finnish origin. The Finnish people are very comfortable with the life and the nationality feeling is very high.

 

Various Conversations – May 2019:

  • Satu tells me that Kauniainen is a safe place. The young violinist agrees: “You don’t feel scared, even waking home at night.” She adds that Kauniainen has everything you need and its very easy to get to Helsinki. I ask whether she’ll stay; her mother tells me that she herself has lived here nearly all her life and her parents were born & bred here. The young violinist says she’ll probably stay: ‘I can’t see any reason to leave.’ The pianist tells me that Kauniainen has a lot of open space and is very easy to get round.  “Everyone know everyone in Kauniaunen” Satu tells me that you have multi generational families and the elderly are still very active & influential. “There is both an entrepreneurial spirit and a love of tradition.”
  • Annika at the thrift shop laughs when I tell her that I am here to photograph the ‘happiest place on earth’ and then tells me “a happy fact” ~ that this was the first second hand store in Finland. Lafkan Secondhand was set up 40 years ago and at the time people in Finland were not used to buying second hand clothing. Now it has become popular as it is environmentally friendly but this store was the first of its kind.
  • Christoffer, the Mayor, explains that there is a higher than national average Swedish population in Kauniaunen, which gives it a distinct character. I ask what the Swedes bring to the table but Christoffer is not sure how to answer this. He says there are two main languages spoke here (as well as English): Finnish & Swedish, and as a consequence, two schools: the Finnish and the Swedish. This is a harmonious relationship and maintains the Swedish language and culture here. He tells me about the elders, who are very active in Kauniainen, arrange cultural activities, such as trips to the theatre and philosophy groups but are also very interested in social affairs. Christoffer tells me that for Finland the relationship with Sweden is very good, lots of cross cultural ideas, however Russia they have to keep a wary eye on, though in reality Russia has its attention on countries in the south. He tells that the population growth is 1% per year and that they have a quota of immigrants from the Congo: four or five a year, currently a group of 40.
  • Taru is the Education Technology Specialist. She is tasked with updating not just the IT systems in schools but much more than that: at the DigiLab, a drop in centre accessible to anyone in Kauniainen, they are experimenting with 3d printers and AI technology. Teenagers have programmed AI interfaces. She describes a project where children were asked to design an environment that best extolled health & well being. She said that two groups had participated, one group of 15 year olds, the other 8 year olds; interestingly the 8 year olds had more interesting ideas regarding healthy sources that included including love!
  • Heidi, Head of Education, explains to me that the education system in Finland is based on trust. The three boys I meet at the centre all have keys to the building and can come & go as they like. She tells me that Finnish schools have one of the highest education standards globally. She talks about increasing compassion, that this is essential to healthy living and healthy communities. The boys tell me that there is the Finish speaking school and the Swedish speaking; the two communities seem to be quite separate ~ they mix at sports clubs and events but not elsewhere. I ask if there are gangs here and they laugh and say no. I ask if they will leave Kauniainen when they go to university but they all say probably not: they’ll live here and commute to Helsinki or Espoo.
  • The DigiLab is part of the school building which   is next to the concert hall; the art school is above the DigiLab which is about a ten minute away from the music academy. It is a very small city, about 8 miles square, but packed with activities. Health & education and community are all interlinked and as Satu explains there is both an entrepreneurial spirit here and respect for tradition.
  • A dad with his kids at a small park tells me he  lives in Espoo but come to Kauniainen; his children love the playground here and it’s just a walk across the park for them. He tells me Kauniainen is a little bit more fancy than Espoo. He says he thinks it is because there are more Swedish people here and its more affluent but can’t say what the Swedes bring to the culture: “its a little  bit difficult to explain.’
  • I ask the same question to a couple of mums at the art school, where Hanna has arranged an art day to work on a Happy Project. They tell me that there is a high percentage of Swedish here, compared to Espoo, but again cannot tell me how this improves or adds to the particular flavour of Kauniainen. One of them describes the Swedes as peaches, soft on the outside but hard in the middle, and the Fins as coconuts, with hard exteriors but soft issue. They tell me that the infrastructure here is very good and all within walking distance: very good education, swimming pool, ski slope, shopping centre and access to great outdoors. One mum who’s come across from Espoo says that “to live here is like winning the lottery!”
  • Jan meets me at the local football club; he sits on the board but is not a football coach. I am here to photograph the happy football team. Unfortunately they lose, so I photograph them in the rain in low mood!
  • Tania & Andy are not Fins nor Swedes: Tania is from Russia and Andy from Australia. They have just returned from 3 weeks in Australia and Andy is feeling homesick. When I meet him for the first time he is holding a rifle and sports a big grin. Later he agrees to be photographed with his rifle and dog on the veranda. In return I take a few potshots at a target and discover I’m a ‘natural’! Andy tells me he is in IT; Tania is an engineer working in aviation, however she says her job is mostly “handling paperwork.” They got into Airbnb for the company not the extra income. We go for dinner together and then Andy drives us around the lake and then continues to drive, pointing out the Finnish school then the Swedish school, the adult education centre, the horse riding centre, the local church, the football pitch where I was earlier and the fire station where I will be tomorrow. Most intriguing though is a huge nuclear bunker which has been converted into a sports centre. It is closed today but may be open tomorrow. On the topic of happiness Andy says he finds the long winter months really difficult, despite living here over ten years. Whereas Tania is used to it, coming from a region in Russia with similar latitude. Andy also describes the Fins as very reserved and as a consequence he finds himself to be much less sociable. He says he barely knows his neighbours (no invites to barbecues!). However he says he trusts them implicitly: their word is their bond.
  • Kauniainen, known as Gankula in Swedish, has 50% Swedish population. Being 50% Swedish  changes the character of the place: it’s more chilled, Iris tells me, but I’m still none the wiser. Micke is, he tells me, an entrepreneur. He has numerous businesses on the go but of most interest to me is his business specialising in renovating wooden houses in Finland. He has eight projects around the lake but many more around the country. His company (one of many) is called Trahus, which is Swedish for Tree House. And all of the houses are wood, with an elevated stone foundation, so that no moisture rises into the building. The house he lives in with his wife and 2 children was built by his great grandparents, partitioned into two ~ the other side are Bernt & Marie, his aunt & uncle, whose home is a much posher version, many paintings on the walls and original grand furniture. They come from established wealth; the family has lived here since Kauniainen was was first established in 1890.
  • The view from Bernt & Marie’s balcony is stunning: a clear view of the lake and surrounding woodlands. Marie informs me that they have just cut down forty trees that were infected, meaning the view and sense of space is even better. They moved into the house when Bernt’s parents were still alive, early years of marriage, and have stayed here ever since. Micke, Bernt’s nephew, lives next door with his family. He inherited the house from his father, Bernt’s brother. Micke tells me that the areas of land around a house are called plots; their shared house has two plots. The City Council collects tax on plots: 1000 euros per month! This is cost of holding into the land. It is, he tells me, an expensive place to buy and an expensive place to live, which means it retains its exclusivity. A lot of properties therefore sell their plots to the City, as the council has first claim to them; the council then develops the plots for new properties, which are often out of keeping with the traditional villas. He is passionate about preserving the traditional wooden homes: “some were built early 1900 and, with renovation, are still in perfectly good condition. They are better at withstanding the extreme weather and, if looked after, last much longer than new builds.” He shows me around his house and points out that there is no condensation because of the good air circulation. I ask him what are the qualities that make Kauniainen a special place to live and he acknowledges its affluence but stresses that all amenities are here and within walking distance. Plus it is fifty, sixty per cent Swedish!
  • The volunteer firemen are waiting for me in full regalia. They ask me how I’d like them to pose and I tell them ‘ghostbuster’ style. They pose themselves in front of the fire trucks, which have been arranged in front of the fire station. There’s lots of friendly banter and they are clearly proud of their role as firemen. Jens tells me they always have six men in the station at all times but the volunteer crew is much bigger and growing all the time. Today about 12 guys have gathered for the photoshoot and are keen to be photographed (“we need to update our CVs!”). I am given a quick tour and shown a locker room where young kids are taught fire fighting skills; when they turn 18 they can go out on a call. They are very proud of their early fire fighting teaching: “this is how I became a volunteer fire man” one of them tells me.
  • Andy poses with his air rifle and Jerry his dog. On the question of happiness Andy questions whether this is really true of the Fins; he finds them reserved, which has made him more reserved and less sociable. As an outside he clearly does not feel at home. On our tour of town last night, took me to a former nuclear bunker, which was closed. Today it is open: a long corridor carved out of the rock recedes away from me. Lights automatically switch on as I venture in. It is a vertiginous space, as all subterranean spaces are, and there are strange markings on the walls, arrows & crosses, and mushroom like protrubances, which I realise are climbing grips: the tunnel walls are used for rock climbing! I open a heavy steel door and enter another corridor, this time painted white. There is a gym  off to the left and exercise bicycles in front of me. I venture further in and enter a huge cavern that is an indoor football pitch. The cave roof yawns above me. I see a man and introduce myself. He tells me his name is Makhas and he is the ‘caretaker’. He tells me there is a football match later at 5.30pm and I am welcome to come back and take photos. However, I have a date with Petra!
  • Roger Renman welcomes me to ‘Petra, the Adult Education Centre’, taking me on a tour, starting with a large church-like room. He informs me that they have yoga and gymnastics, English classes, ceramics, a tapestry weaving room, glass making, arts & crafts, line dancing, gymnastics for improving balance,  music gymnastics for children, porcelain-painting workshop, yoga for stiff muscles, mindfulness-based eating awareness, yoga for parents and children, ashtanga yoga – in fact anything that anyone wants to set up. Petra’, he tells me, as well as referring to a place of worship in the mountains of Jordan, comes from a quote in the Bible and means rock: Isaiah 2 -’Enter into the rock and hide thee in the dust’. Petra also derives from the Greek word ‘petros’ meaning stone, rock. The building has a Christian background though the adult education centre is non-religious. I ask him about the characterisation of Kauniainen as the ‘happiest town in Finland’ and he tells me that because of the strong Protestant strain in Finland they are supposed to find happiness in work: the good work ethic. Finns are more reticent to claim they are happy personally. He later sends me a poem by Eino Leino that perfectly encapsulates this sense of reserved happiness.
  • Risto, Head of physics at the Brain Centre, Aalto University. The Aalto University is working on a project to develop technology that can do full brain scans. He explains that at the moment they can scan small local areas manually but the intention is to use AI technology to do this more effectively and comprehensively. The AI system will scan & analyse much quicker giving a clearer idea of brain function. We talk about crossover between AI research and the neuroscience; full brain scans, for instance, has huge application in terms of AI development & self learning; likewise the study of the brain requires AI technology to be able to fully capture the full complexity of the brain. On the topic of happiness Risto is less certain: how do we define happiness? He tells me  that they have a variety of researchers looking into different aspects of the brain, one of whom is studying emotions. But this, he tells me, is very difficult to measure.
  • Frank tells me that he prefers the term ‘life satisfaction’ to happiness. Life satisfaction refers to a combination of factors, including finding meaning in life. His next book, to be published next year, is all about how we find meaning in life. Frank is part of a research group looking into health & well being. One project is on co-passion which he explains to me is the use of compassion & empathy to understand someone’s pain and respond to it. He adds that it is also about responding to someone’s positive experiences too. It is, in other words, a more active form of compassion that focuses on support and a richer understanding between each other. Frank tells me that the Global Happiness Scale is based on a simple survey: ‘on a scale of 1 to 10 how satisfied are you with your life?’ There are main indicators to this, such as GDP and national generosity and welfare etc. He agrees that Finland is generally happier but qualifies this by telling me that the rich/poor  divide is a lot less than a lot of other countries and that everyone has access to facilities such as social support & housing. He adds that all the 5 Nordic countries score very high in terms of life satisfaction. In terms of education, he says there is a lot trust: teachers are much freer to decide c what to teach, rather than religiously follow the curriculum, yet education standards are still very high. Frank was born in Espoo just outside Kauniainen but he often came into the city to play football matches or visit friends. He tells me that Kauniainen is different than Espoo as it has the very affluent area around the lake and is 50% Swedish. I ask what the high ratio of Swedish speaking people to Finnish brings to the city in terms of happiness and he says that the Swedish, especially in Kauniainen, form a tight-knit community and prioritise health and well being, that they are more outgoing & less reserved than the Finns.

 

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