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,  



Christoffer Masar, Mayor of Kauniainen








Andy with Jimmy 


The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Capercaillie


 Grankula Football Team, under 14s
Nino, Aaro, Atte, at the DigiLab  
Taru Koskinen, Head of IT System, developer of learning environments, DigiLab
Volunteer Fireman, Grankula Volunteer Fire Service
Grankula Volunteer Fire Service
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Firewall
Sports Centre, Underground Nuclear Bunker, Kauniainen 
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Gym equipment
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Marko (wide)                                                Marko
Jan Sten, Grankulla Football Club 
Roger Renman, Rector,The Adult Education Centre, Kauniainen
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Weaver
 Garden Sculptures, Kauniainen School of Art
Bernt & Marie-Louise Paqvalen
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

Kai and Pirkko, Finnish Seniors Club
Grankulla Music Institute. Villa Vallmogård was previously the home of Finland’s national poet Mikael Lybeck. It was built in1907. 
Heta, on viola 
Katri, on violin  
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Violinist
Saga Nyren  
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Saga sml
Lars-Michaël, ‘Micke’, with family, founder of Trahus, specialising in renovating traditional wooden houses in Finland
Saga and Evelyn 
The Happiest Place on Earth ~ Porchway with Klee
Risto Ilmoniemi, Professor of Applied Physics, Aalto University 
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.

Copyright © All rights reserved Barry Falk 2019/2020