Finland, the happiest nation on earth, is offering an online ‘Masterclass of Happiness’. I took it and learned that the keys to happiness include reconnecting with nature, developing trust and resilience, defining your ‘Enough’ and seeking simple pleasures.
The World’s Happiest Nation
Finland is offering to teach the world its recipe for happiness through a ‘Masterclass of Happiness’. (https://www.visitfinland.com/en/find-your-inner-finn/) Voted as the happiest nation year-on-year for the last five years, this free online video course allows you to take a close peek into the lives of the Finns. This 5-lesson course set me thinking about where the US stands on the happiness index. What about India, the country I belong to? The US ranked 16 and India was ranked at the bottom of the pile at a dismal 136.
Bounty of Nature is Finland’s Happiness Secret
Finland is blessed with the bounty of nature. These blessings are testimony to the fact that the more they appreciate God’s gifts, the more nature showers on them. The Finns have preserved their forests and 188,000 lakes which help them connect with nature.
Here is my take and insights on Finland’s 5-lesson Masterclass in Happiness.
Lesson 1: Reconnecting with Nature.
In the first lesson, Petri Kokkonen, a wilderness guide, asks us to spend some time in nature, away from the usual trappings of city life. This is akin to how ascetics in India live in the wild with no protection from the elements. Communing with nature is the surest way to be happy. However, hermits also connect with their higher self through meditation.
A. Waking up to God through meditation and nature: I wake up early and meditate in the early morning hours. The deep connection with my peaceful core brings harmony to my life. I am grateful for the mellifluous cuckoo who bestows the glory of her voice on souls like me who wake up at 4 a.m.
B. Fresh air and greenery: I am fortunate to be living very close to nature in Mumbai. Our gardens are home to some of the oldest trees. The lush green lawns are frequented by marathoners, yoga enthusiasts, morning walkers, badminton, football and cricket enthusiasts and veterans of the laughter club. In the evenings, it metamorphoses into a subdued lovers’ haunt in some spots, while other spots host exuberant children’s fun and games.
Yesterday, I took a leaf out of Petri Kokkonen’s book and went for a stroll without my phone. In the spirit of mindfulness, I consciously observed the trees and birds around me. For the first time, I noticed a papaya tree flowering. I couldn’t help thinking, “How is it that such a tiny flower gives birth to such a big papaya?” I also took in the noisy mynahs (the Asian Starling), the doves, the pigeons, the jet-black jungle crows, the ordinary sparrows, and the Red-vented bulbuls.
Lesson 2: Satiate the senses through Nature.
Mikaela Cruetz encourages us to use all our senses to experience nature.
I noticed the butterflies flitting about without a care in the world. A congregation of long-tailed parakeets – four of them – made quite a racket! The scampering squirrels released sounds in sync with the rhythmic motion of their bushy tails. The bats hanging upside down from the trees were sending out a screechy, eerie rendering to the skies. I enjoyed sipping the refreshing coconut water sitting under the clear skies and feeling the gentle breeze on the balmy October morning.
Lesson 3: ‘Fluxing’ with April Rinne (Fluxing means the art of navigating change in life).
April Rinne says, “We have little control over the external but trust and ‘sisu’ (inner resilience) can help us overcome all adversities and challenges that life throws our way.”
A. Trust the Universe to bring you your good
I remember the time I was pursuing my arts-based therapy course. Everything I needed in terms of people, resources and timelines worked out perfectly for me. I needed to make a video which constituted 50% of the marks for my final grade. I arrived at the center armed with my DSLR and a tripod. However, the head of the center refused permission to shoot. Though I was distraught I somehow managed to complete the day’s session. Later, I reached out to him explaining how the video footage was critical for my grades. He told me that I could shoot some short clips on my phone. He explained that the tripod and DSLR were just too conspicuous and overbearing and hence he had denied me permission.
Having found the middle ground, I completed my project. My video turned out to be the best and nailed me the top spot among all graduating students that year. In retrospect, the short video clips saved me many hours of plowing through reels of video footage. This experience taught me to trust the Universe – its ‘Yeses’ and ‘Nos’ equally. Gratitude for things always working out well is easy, but being grateful when the tide is against us constitutes trust.
B. Trust that people are essentially good and helpful
I had been having sleep issues when someone spontaneously reached out to send me good energy so that I could enjoy restful sleep that night. Another lady became the sounding board for me to thrash out the muddled feelings that I was grappling with in my life. My family and friends are my trusted band of people who support me and who always watch my back. I am sure they trust me to be there for them in the same way.
Lesson 4: Design with minimalism and recycling by Taina Snellman-Langenskiold.
Minimalism ensures that we take from nature only as much as we need and make do with less.
A. Minimalism and contentment
Happiness is synonymous with contentment for me. I have given away everything I could spare and offloaded most of my gadgets. The only gadgets I now possess are my phone, my iPod, a laptop, and my music system. Having embraced minimalism, I have bought just one pair of shoes, one purse, and one pair of palazzos in the last three and a half years. That’s quite a feat for any woman, I should think!
B. Stop chasing perfection
I am blessed with a natural talent for music and find joy in singing the songs that I fancy. I love listening to music across genres and languages. Music is the language of the soul and more so when you can drop the pursuit of perfection.
C. Convert the old into the new
The pandemic taught me to be creative in gifting. I re-painted old coasters as a gift for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary and embroidered plain handkerchiefs as a surprise for them.
Lesson 5: The Inner Finn Feast with Alex Nurmi.
Renowned chef Alex Nurmi holds a class about putting together a simple meal from nature’s plenty and eating it surrounded by nature. Finland permits anyone to pick berries, collect mushrooms, or fish with a simple fishing rod.
A. Of shooting stars and simple home-cooked meals
Simple pleasures mean great company whether that of nature or great friends or both. I had accompanied a bunch of friends to spend New Year’s Eve on a mountain fort called Raigad in the state of Maharashtra, India. On reaching the top, we pitched our tents, played games, sang songs, and finally ushered in the New Year. Through the open tent door, a clear sky full of stars greeted us. As we watched in quiet appreciation, we were showered with the awe-inspiring sight of a shooting star. Then a gentle breeze nudged us into peaceful slumber. We woke up when the sun was high up in the sky. The village women offered to sell us a hot breakfast. It was simple fare (Pithla-Bhakri) consisting of freshly made flatbread accompanied by a dip of chickpea flour tempered with chilies and onions, with garlic chutney and chopped onions on the side. It was piping hot when served and tasted like the most delectable meal I have ever had. We ate under the open sky surrounded by a few bushes, floating clouds, and chirping birds. Thankfully, those were the days when phone networks were hard to come by in the mountains.
B. A hot cuppa, the wet monsoon, and the freshly washed countryside
My friends and I have also enjoyed trekking in the monsoons. We relish sipping hot cups of syrupy sweet tea, as we sit totally drenched, against the rock face. The appetite is better in the crisp mountain air. We end up devouring the homemade pancakes as they seem tastier than they ever did at home. The freshly washed countryside seems to add more emerald to the green. The tiny rivulets flowing down the mountainside make for a picturesque click. The mist-filled clouds hang low in a bid to embrace the mountain tops and stay etched as happy memories.
My ‘Light’ connection with the Finns
The Northern Lights and the Midnight Sun
The Finns experience the Northern Lights (or the Aurora Borealis, an atmospheric phenomenon that gives rise to beautiful dancing waves of light), an enchanting phenomenon for 200 nights in a year. The ‘Midnight Sun’ is yet another amazing gift. For two months every summer, the sun stays above the horizon, and this is a cherished experience in Finland.
The world of lights makes my heart sing
Witnessing the ‘Iridescent clouds’ in the Satara region of Maharashtra, and a ‘Moondog’ in the Gir region of Gujarat have been happy experiences I cherish to this day.
Then, the lamps and lanterns around Diwali light up my whole country like a picture out of a fairy tale. In the evenings, the riverbanks of temple towns like Rishikesh and Varanasi in northern India look ethereal. The riverfront is lit up by gazillions of clay lamps. The lamps cast their light on the shimmering waters. Against the backdrop of the setting sun in the pinkish-orange skies, it makes for a mesmerizing experience.