Finland, which has been named the happiest country, could be better equipped to handle Covid-19

Business Insider US
Young adults take a selfie in Tempere, Finland.
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  • The United Nations, which named Finland the happiest country in the world for the third year in a row, says the country may be better prepared to respond to the coronavirus pandemic for one of the same reasons it earned the top ranking.
  • According to the 2020 UN World Happiness Report, Finland and other high-ranking Nordic countries are "high-trusting" societies.
  • Communities that trust in each other and in public institutions are often more resilient in the face of catastrophe and can bounce back more quickly, the report said.
  • Released March 20, the report ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.
  • Unlike Nordic countries, the United States is not a high-trusting society, according to the 2018 World Happiness Report.
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For the third year in a row, the UN has named Finland the happiest country in the world.

This year, the UN said that one of the main reasons Finland ranked as the happiest country could help it deal with the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic better than other nations.

It all comes down to trust.

As of March 20, Finland has 450 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Earlier this week, Finland introduced sweeping measures to contain the virus, including closing all schools and universities, banning public gatherings of more than 10 people, suspending visits to nursing homes and other elderly care facilities, and closing borders to non-essential travell through April 13.

According to the 2020 UN World Happiness Report, which ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens consider themselves to be, trust of other people and public institutions is a defining element of Finland and other consistently high-ranking Nordic societies.

"People in high-trust communities are much more resilient in the face of a whole range of challenges to their well-being: illness, discrimination, fear of danger, unemployment, and low income," the report's editors wrote. "Just to feel that they can count on others around them, and on their public institutions, makes their hardships less painful, thereby delivering benefits to all, and especially those most in need."

Historically, high-trust societies have been able to rebound more quickly from a catastrophe while maintaining, and sometimes even bolstering, happiness levels, the 2020 report said.

"As revealed by earlier studies of earthquakes, floods, storms, tsunamis, and even economic crises, a high trust society quite naturally looks for and finds co-operative ways to work together to repair the damage and rebuild better lives," the editors wrote. "This has led sometimes to surprising increases in happiness in the wake of what might otherwise seem to be unmitigated disasters."

All five Nordic countries - Finland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Iceland - were among this year's top 10 happiest countries and have been since the report's inception in 2013.

This year, the United States ranked 18th, on par with its 19th-place ranking in 2019 and 18th-ranking in 2018.

Unlike Nordic countries, the United States is not a high-trusting society, Jeffrey D. Sachs explained in the 2018 World Happiness Report.

"Social support networks in the US have weakened over time; perceptions of corruption in government and business have risen over time; and confidence in public institutions has waned," he wrote in 2018.

The mentality of "we're all in this together" is being tested right now as the United States rushes to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Sachs told the New York Times.

"We're going to have to find that common sense of shared responsibility to pull through this crisis," he said.

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