Why Helsinki Is The Happiest Place On Earth!
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine|October 2018

Thats according to the World Happiness Report 2018. So whats the secret behind that ranking?

Patrick Chew

THE PERMUTATIONS ARE ENDLESS.

To some, a perfect city is combining New York’s vibrant nightlife in a setting like Sydney, Australia, with bars like those in Barcelona, and cuisine from Bangkok served in Mexican outdoor cafés. To others, it’s layering the French joie de vivre over the civic accommodation and elegance of Kyoto while playing in the exciting mercantile world in a glass tower overlooking the Hong Kong harbour.

Indeed, it is impossible to cherry pick like this simply because a city’s qualities cannot thrive out of context. But if it is at all possible to achieve a perfect city, it seems, at least on paper, that Helsinki is as close as it gets — dazzling, snow blanketed landscapes on which to gaze at the northern lights, a much-lauded education system, the first country in the world to give full suffrage to women, home of Santa Claus, a population that, according to a UN study, is the happiest people on the planet. A population, incidentally, as I found out on an early morning stroll through Helsinki’s Old Market Hall with a chef, who relishes silent pauses as much as a conversation, when there is one.

“As you can see, there are many different types of herring over here,” said chef Karri Knaapila of Krog Roba, the on-site restaurant in Hotel Lilia Robert, as he led me through the walkways of Old Market Hall. It is a beautiful building right by the sea that groups together cafés, bakeries, fresh meats and fish stalls. But it is not a market that comes with the hustle and bustle normally associated with fishmongers and butchers. No, this is a place whose atmosphere and mood resembles that of a museum's. Busy, filled with things to look at, but, at the same time, very very quiet.

“Do you come to this market often?” I asked.

“Yes,” Knaapila replied.

“It's a beautiful building,” I tried to keep the conversation going.

“Okay.” It was clear he preferred to walk in silence, and speaking only when absolutely necessary.

It’s not like the people are unfriendly. They are not. To me, Finns are like strangers you meet in a lift. Mildly polite, speaking only when necessary. Small talk isn’t a big thing.

Two days later, I found myself dining at Knaapila’s restaurant. The chef spent the entire service in the kitchen without coming out once. But his food, the juniper pickled salmon in particular, was outstanding. Clean, distinct flavours, layering on top of one another that brought out the natural flavours and freshness of the ingredients.

And that was when it hit me — rather than trying to form an impression and opinion of Helsinki through interactions with its people, I should have been focusing on what they do or have done in order to get a true picture of the supposed happiest place on Earth.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM T SINGAPORE: THE NEW YORK TIMES STYLE MAGAZINEView All

WORKING GIRL

Throughout our country’s history, there’s never been an artist who has captured America’s particular mythology — its dreams, its disappointments, its diversity of experiences — as completely as Dolly Parton. Now, more than 50 years into her legendary career, she’s proving there’s still something left to learn about her — and about ourselves.

10+ mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021

The Sacrifice

In ‘cancelling’ cultural figures whose actions we’ve deemed irredeemable, are we exacting citizen justice — or just doing the dirty work for the institutions and overlords who actually run the show?

10+ mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021

GLASS HOUSES

In a six-story building in the centre of Munich, Michael and Petra Mayer run — and reside in — one of the world’s oldest and most celebrated architectural glass and mosaic ateliers.

6 mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021

Eating Culture

This Singaporean photographer is reimagining local cuisine, one dish at a time.

4 mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021

Notes On The Culture

Supermama's interpretation of Singapore Porcelain

9 mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021

The Custom Of The Country

On 1,200 acres in Chianti, Italy, a 15thcentury monastery is now home to the Venetian shoe designer René Caovilla and his family, who have made the history and traditions of an ancient region their own.

5 mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021

Always In Control

Since her breakout in the 1960s as a girl from Brooklyn, Barbra Streisand has remained singularly influential not by chasing trends but by knowing from the beginning that the only way to change the world around her was by convincing people to listen.

10+ mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021

State Of Grace

For the Chinese actress Liu Shishi, acting is a career that requires a lot of discipline, even though she makes it look easy.

5 mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021

The Perfect Fit

How the actress Vanessa Paradis experienced the couture process with Chanel for her jury appearance at the Deauville American Film Festival.

5 mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021

Songs In The Keys Of Life

The French-Georgian pianist Khatia Buniatishvili is a larger-than-life figure brimming with talent, ideas and a sense of urgency to introduce the next generation to classical music today.

8 mins read
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine
January 2021
RELATED STORIES

Finland Deploys Coronavirus Sniffing Dogs At Main Airport

Finland has deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at the Nordic country’s main international airport in a four-month trial of an alternative testing method that could become a cost-friendly and quick way to identify infected travelers.

2 mins read
Techlife News
September 26, 2020

Finnish Lines

Solo bassist Kristiine Silinja reminds us that there’s no such thing as ‘you cannot’...

2 mins read
Bass Player
May 2020

HELSINKI

With new cultural quarters, no-waste restaurants and a passion for design, Finland’s capital has transformed itself from overlooked city break destination into a Nordic success story.

9 mins read
National Geographic Traveller (UK)
November/December

SEA OF A THOUSAND ISLANDS

Fairline owner Kivikari Freyberg spent a memorable six weeks exploring Finland’s Archipelago Sea and its 17,000 islands with his young family

10+ mins read
Motor Boat & Yachting
November 2020

YAMAHAHA... SORRY?

I'VE ALWAYS LOVED GS SUZUKIS - MY FIRST BIKE AFTER PASSING MY TEST IN '89 WAS A f500 850G, AND I RODE THAT FOR A FEW YEARS BEFORE CHOPPING IT INTO A LOWRIDER THAT WOUND UP IN BSH. THREE MORE 850S, AND A 750 (ALONG WITH ABOUT 35 OTHER BIKES), 25 YEARS, AND FOUR CONTINENTS LATER, I BOUGHT A BUTT UGLY COBRA ENGINEERING FRAMED '93 HARLEY FXR.

3 mins read
Back Street Heroes
November 2020

The Pursuit Of Happiness

A quest that starts at rush hour in the Finnish capital, Helsinki...

10+ mins read
Lonely Planet Magazine India
June 2020

Something old, SOMETHING NEW

Find out why historic Lyon was crowned one of the first European Capitals of Smart Tourism with Karyn Noble

5 mins read
France
July 2020

AXOPAR 37

The latest version of the award-winning Axopar 37 is here and we managed to grab an early drive of the prototype before the lockdown restrictions kicked in

5 mins read
Motor Boat & Yachting
June 2020

Finnish lines

Yrjö Kukkapuro’s studio near Helsinki is a temple to the art of sitting down

6 mins read
Wallpaper
April 2020

Memorable Throws

STAN GREENBERG, A VETERAN OF MORE THAN 60 NATIONAL ATHLETICS CHAMPIONSHIPS, RECALLS HIS MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS OVER THE YEARS IN SHOT PUT AND DISCUS

2 mins read
Athletics Weekly
December 12, 2019