Because we could all use a little advice right now.
My happiest moments from the past year were spent in Finland, where I spent a cold, sunless week in Lapland back in November. The fresh air and breathtaking natural beauty sustained me even after the 3 p.m. sunsets, and I made it my mission to keep my blissful, outdoorsy attitude going into 2020—and then coronavirus happened. Outbreaks are stressful, and according to the CDC, they can worsen mental heath conditions to varying degrees. I’ve been keeping in touch with my family and having Zoom sessions with my therapist, but part of me wishes I could simply hop on a plane back to Finland.
Luckily for everyone struggling with the whole “getting through the day without crying” thing right now, Finland’s tourism board has shared the country’s top five tips for happiness—specifically when you’re stuck at home. And seeing how the United Nations World Happiness Report dubbed Finland the happiest country in the world for the third year in a row, we suggest you pay attention. So take a deep breath, and follow these steps for Finnish-style happiness until you can go on your next adventure.
1. Start your day with a cold shower.
You’re probably aware of the sauna culture in most Nordic countries, but Finns in particular like to add a little ice to their fire. Winter swimming is an extremely popular activity in Finland—there are even spas that offer ice swimming, complete with stylish facilities with underwater lights to lower the fear threshold. But there are many citizens who still prefer to take the plunge the old-fashioned way: jumping into a freezing lake as soon as they wake up in the morning. The idea of diving head-first into dark waters before the sun rises (if it even rises at all) sounds like an…acquired taste, but Finns swear that they get a huge rush of happiness as soon as they’re back on dry land and their circulation kicks back in. The process of your body warming up goes hand-in-hand with the production of serotonin with dopamine, a.k.a. serious mood-boosting hormones.
The easiest way to replicate this sensation at home is to take an ice-cold shower for a couple of minutes first thing in the morning. The post-shower sensations will be just like those experienced during winter swimming in Finland. You can also alternate cold and warm showers to recreate that “sauna” feeling and get your blood circulating.
2. Read, read, read.
Finns hold books close to their hearts. The United Nations named Finland the world’s most literate nation in 2016, and its citizens continue to be avid public library users. (Finland is a country of 5.5 million people, yet Finns borrow close to 68 million books a year.) One of Finland’s most popular literary icons is the Moomin, a white, hippo-like character created by Finnish writer Tove Jansson in the 1940s. The Moomins have since become part of the country’s identity—Finnair even chose Moomins to advertise their family-oriented travel services.
Moomin books can be found in every bookstore and library in Finland, and can also be ordered online. However, you can find literary happiness outside of this one series (although it’s hard to replicate that level of cuteness). Sitting down with a good book has become one of our favorite coping mechanisms during this pandemic—check out our list of the best travel books of all time, according to authors and editors. Any book on this list is more relaxing than scrolling through the news or social media—we guarantee it.
3. Visit the forest from your couch.
From the sound of gently rustling leaves to the calming effect of the color green, spending time among trees is one of the nicest things you can do for yourself. And while the term “forest bathing”—basically being present in the forest through slow movements and a focus on the senses—originated in Japan, the Finns have long believed that their souls are linked to the forest and its magical elements. Studies have proven that spending time in forests can lower cortisol (the primary stress hormone), blood pressure, and heart rates; but even if you can’t get to a grove of trees at the present moment, you can easily replicate the sensory part of the experience at home.
Visit Finland has compiled the relaxing sounds of Finnish Lapland onto an album titled “Scapes,” which you can download now on Spotify. Each of the tracks is between 7 and 8 minutes long, with sounds including singing birds in a forest, reindeer grazing in a field, and a fire crackling in a cozy cabin. To wind down after a day of work, stretch out on your sofa, close your eyes (adding a sleep mask would be even better), and take an imaginary trip to the Arctic wilderness.
4. Bake some cinnamon buns.
Another beloved tradition in Finland is the coffee break, which is much lovelier than the pre-lunch dash to Starbucks we’re used to. Finns will take time out of their day to indulge in some strong coffee paired with a sweet treat—usually korvapuusti, or cinnamon buns baked with a dash of cardamom, then topped with thick granules of pearl sugar. Practically every cafe in Helsinki bakes cinnamon buns every morning, but making them yourself can be just as satisfying. (This video has a great recipe with step-by-step instructions.) With sweet treats like this, is it any wonder Finland is the happiest country in the world?
5. Take a virtual museum tour.
Finland has a thriving contemporary art scene, embracing both experimental installations and more conventional galleries and museums. There are more than 55 art museums scattered around the country’s bigger cities (which is pretty impressive, given Finland’s sparse population). While the artwork here is fairly dynamic, much of it centers around the Finns’ close relationship with nature. And just like winter swimming or forest bathing, citizens use art to calm the mind and alleviate stress.
We certainly recommend checking out some of Finland’s coolest art museums in person one day, but in the meantime, here are some of the country’s top institutions that are currently offering virtual tours and online experiences:
- Amos Rex (Best for immersive installations and edgy architecture)
- Rovaniemi Art Museum (Best for cool sculptures and Lapland nature)
- Ateneum Art Museum (Best for classical art)