As we flew back to Helsinki from Rovaniemi, my mind was aswirl with images stolen from the bountiful wilderness and memories captured from experiences we had had in the last five days. I was totally blown away by Finland; and I don’t mean by the landscape alone.

Finns may appear to be aloof but that is because they respect personal privacy more than most peoples around the world. Give them a justified cause and the famous Finnish talkoo kicks in, that is, doing communal work like barn-raising or log-rolling or even fundraising for the common-weal.

Couple this with another Finnish characteristic, sisu, which translates to courage or grit (Finnish-spirit), and we have a people who are dogged and determined against any adversity or challenge. This attitude stood them in great stead against the Russians in the Winter War of 1939-40 when 350,000 Finns fought the million-strong Russian army twice and inflicted severe casualties upon them.

The Finnish society is very respectful, egalitarian, and well-organized. They have jokamiehen oikeudet (Everyman’s Rights) which allows everyone to access nature (ex. forests) freely; pick berries or mushrooms, go picnicking or walking without any hindrance. One can even camp overnight in a tent or vehicle on another’s property so long as no damage is caused! Sharing is big: when partying oma pullo mukaan, or BYOB, is the norm.

Finland is a well-functioning democracy, with extensive welfare benefits and low corruption. Its institutions are respected, the education system is world-class, 42% of parliamentarians are now women, and the literacy rate has been over 99 percent for the last 30 years! This is also the handiwork of the Lutheran Church (almost 70 percent of the people are Lutherans) which puts education as a requirement for getting married!

Finland regularly tops the World Social and Human Development Indices. It has experimented with Universal Basic Income (UBI), and has even tested two pilot programs. While the results were mixed, we have to applaud their efforts to uplift the less-privileged.

It is no wonder that Finland is The Happiest Country in the World, thrice in a row, according to UN World Happiness Report.