Tag Archives: Acts Of Kindness

On this International Day of Happiness, learn how Finns pay attention to the right things

Happy International Day of Happiness!

The International Day of Happiness must be my favourite day of the year. It is a recent invention, and only celebrates its fifth anniversary today.

Like every international day, it acts as a reminder to pay attention to the right things. To be aware of what makes us happy, and cut away some of the things that don’t. There are plenty of sources of inspiration that could help make small moments of happiness happen, like on HappyActs or Action for Happiness. Often it’s very simple: say thank you or smile to someone, take a walk in nature, or do a (Random) Act of Kindness.

Source: #HappyActs calendar

Source: #HappyActs calendar, www.happyacts.org

 

World Happiness Report

The release of the World Happiness Report is now a regular fixture on the calendar. This year, there is a new number one: Finland. It is a sign there is a lot of space at the top: the last few editions also saw Norway, Denmark and Switzerland coming first. (The authors explain that this is due to very small differences in happiness levels among these countries. Next year it could be any of those – or Iceland – again).

All these countries share high performance across the board on factors that strongly correlate with happiness: a well-developed economy, social support, a good health system, personal freedom, trust in public society, and high levels of generosity.

Having said that, there are a couple of things that are particularly interesting in the Finnish case, and that might have helped to build a lead over its competitors for first place.

  • Education in Finland is of high quality. Finnish teachers are highly respected and qualified (a master’s diploma’s are required), and the country scores extremely well in international comparisons.
  • Nature matters. Finland is a scarcely populated country. Having nature makes it easy to get away from daily distractions. It also facilitates an active lifestyle favouring happiness (this is also a factor that it has in common with other high performers, like Norway and Switzerland). Some Finns take this to the extreme though: the practice of winter bathing is popular in some circles. It goes like this: cut a hole in a frozen lake, dip in for a minute or so, and then run for the sauna to warm up.
  • Sisu‘, a concept close to hearts of Finns that helps to keep going. Many Finnish people believe in the idea of ‘sisu’, which means something like grit, resilience or determination. This attitude helps to overcome difficulties, be it a long cold winter or adverse events in life.

Does that mean that everything is perfect in Finland, or any of the other top five countries for that matter. Of course not – paradise on Earth does not exist. But Finland is a state that takes care of education, offers a natural environment that promotes an active life style, and has a cultural strong attachment to grit. These factors all help in the pursuit of happiness. If happiness is about paying attention to the right things, the Finns probably are doing a great job.

The Independent’s Top 100 (of happiness, not of wealth)

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the richest of them all? In 2013, Bill Gates topped Forbes’ annual billionaire list, with a wealth of $77.6 bn. To compare: that is above the annual GDP of about one hundred countries on earth. His wealth is about the size of Oman’s GDP in 2012, which ranked 65th.

'Underground artist' Kim Kalan

‘Underground artist’ Kim Kalan. Photo via the Independent.

Fortunately life is not about money. As an antidote against Forbes-like lists of the rich & famous, the UK newspaper The Independent last week released its seventh annual Happy List. As The Independent writes, their feelgood list contains “100 people who, without thought of personal gain, give back and help others, rather than themselves.”

Again quoting the paper, the Happy List of 2014 features: “a 93-year-old who has raised more than £100,000 for Age UK by dressing as a bee; a teacher who donated a kidney to one of his pupils; the world’s oldest barmaid; the limbless Plymouth man who founded a charity to help other amputees; the London woman who founded a pop-up restaurant that employs only refugees and migrants; a couple who set up a bereavement service for parents who have lost a baby; and the heroic lollipop lady of Rhoose.”

What a great positive and inspiring message! Happiness often lies in small but significant acts of kindness. The stories of the 100 individuals making Britain a better, more beautiful and ultimately happier place. But the people on the list also offer a lot of inspiration. Their efforts are easier to emulate and more valuable to society at large than the efforts of most of the billionares listed by Forbes.

Let’s share some of the most striking stories (all bios written by the Independent). Even if they do not inspire you to raise money, fund charities or volunteer, they’ll bring a smile to your face.

Jean Bishop. Photo via the Independent

‘Buzzing Fundraiser’ Jean Bishop. Photo via the Independent

Jodi-Ann Bickley: Happiness spreader

A tick bite led to encephalitis and a stroke, leaving this author from Birmingham unable to walk or write. She learnt to write again, and now, via her website, onemillionlovelyletters.com, spends her time writing cheering notes to all those who ask for one. And thousands do.

Jean Bishop: Buzzing fundraiser

Known as the Busy Bee throughout east Yorkshire, 93-year-old Jean began raising money for Age UK Hull 14 years ago after her husband died. She wears a bee costume (made by her daughter) while rattling her tin, and has so far collected over £100,000.

Kim Kalan: Underground artist

Kim, customer service assistant at Caledonian Road Tube station, north London, brightens up the ticket hall with whiteboard drawings. Kim draws up to two a week in her breaks or at the end of her shifts. Her Mona Lisa is among works bringing daily smiles to the faces of commuters.

Colin Marvell: Job finder

After a banking career, partially-sighted Colin, from Hatfield, Hertfordshire, was unemployed at 50. His struggle to find another job prompted him to launch Inspire4Work, a charity that helps the older unemployed gain new work. He also organises soul music events in aid of charity.

Charlie Simpson. Photo via the Independent.

‘Fundraising cyclist’ Charlie Simpson. Photo via the Independent.

Charlie Simpson: Fundraising cyclist

Charlie, aged 11, from west London has been raising money for international children’s charity Unicef since he was seven. After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, he cycled round his local Fulham park seven times. Word of this feat spread, meaning he eventually raised a massive £260,000.

Robert Williams: Kindness dispenser

Robert helped set up The Kindness Offensive, a group which carries out “random acts of kindness” across London, from delivering Christmas gifts to the underprivileged to handing out chocolate to passers-by. One nominator said Robert has “a real impact” on Londoners’ happiness.

The full Independent on Sunday’s Happy List 2014 is available here.