Ask anyone in Norway why they think they were voted the happiest country in the world and this is what they will tell you: safety (well, that and the oil, which also makes them one of the wealthiest countries in the world).
But let’s focus on the safety, because in today’s turbulent political climate that is a sentiment most of us can only imagine. The feeling that the government has your back. The knowledge that if something happens to you; if you lose your job, or get sick, or decide you’re in the wrong career, you’re taken care of.
Yet in Norway, this actually happens.
Earlier this month, I travelled to the country famed for outrageous scenery and equally outrageous social benefits, to discover what the hype was all about.
The World Happiness Report had previously listed Norway as the happiest country in the world, but somehow I wasn’t convinced. After all, this is a land that spends half the year in darkness, has an eye wateringly high cost of living, and equally steep taxes. Plus it rains, a lot. How can this equate to national happiness?
The following is what I discovered…
#1 – They cherish family life over everything
#2 – Proximity to Nature is a fundamental part of living
#3 – Young people are given the opportunity to follow their dreams
#4 – And their culture is geared towards comfort, cosiness and ultimately, seeking happiness
And just like that, it makes sense. Because for Norwegians, happiness doesn’t stem from material possessions, or exuberant signs of wealth. Give them a cabin in the hills and a steaming mug of cocoa and they’re content. No, for Norwegians, they are happy because they simply don’t have the worries that other countries do. They have a system in place that means everyone is born equal and everyone has the same chance in life, which in turn breeds a lack of distrust both in each other, and the state.
This sense of contentment is almost tangible when you travel to Norway, but not in an obvious way. People don’t walk around with big cheesy grins on their faces, but they do have a quiet sense of self-assurance, as if they know their place in the world.
And that is what I envy them. Not the oil, or the wealth, or the mind-blowing natural beauty, but instead just the freedom to do as you please, knowing that if you want to have a family, or go travelling for a month, or change career paths entirely, you absolutely can.
A philosophy of life first, family first, friendships first, isn’t revolutionary, but the fact that the state and the decision makers support this, absolutely is.
So, Norway, will you have me?
I travelled to Norway as part of The Travel Project, a program geared towards exploring all of the different ways in which travel can make you a better human. If you’ve had your life changed by travel and want to share your story with the world, head here.