May 4, 2021

"In 1993, when I was living in New York and still fresh off the boat, 60 Minutes featured a segment on Finland, which opened with this description..."

"... of Helsinki pedestrians going about their business: 'This is not a state of national mourning in Finland, these are Finns in their natural state; brooding and private; grimly in touch with no one but themselves; the shyest people on earth. Depressed and proud of it'” As far as facial expressions of the Finnish people, not much has changed since then. We are still just as reserved and melancholy as before. If happiness were measured in smiles, Finnish people would be among the most miserable in the world.

From The Grim Secret of Nordic Happiness/It’s not hygge, the welfare state, or drinking. It’s reasonable expectations" a Slate article by Jukka Savolainen (reacting to a study that rated the Finns the happiest people on earth).

"Consistent with their Lutheran heritage, the Nordic countries are united in their embrace of curbed aspirations for the best possible life. This mentality is famously captured in the Law of Jante—a set of commandments believed to capture something essential about the Nordic disposition to personal success: 'You’re not to think you are anything special; you’re not to imagine yourself better than we are; you’re not to think you are good at anything,' and so on.... If I had to pick a Scandinavian word to capture the correct cultural ingredient in Nordic happiness, it would probably be the Swedish and Norwegian term lagom, which can be translated as 'just the right amount,' i.e., neither too much nor too little."

FROM THE EMAIL: Paul writes: 

I'm a German-American Lutheran, and I find this unrecognizable. Martin Luther was, famously, an irascible sort who enjoyed the beer his wife, Katie, brewed; teaching; preaching; music (he composed several famous hymns, of which "A Mighty Fortress Is our God" is the best-known); and wrote, and published, pamphlet upon pamphlet upon pamphlet, often in explicitly scatological terms. Whatever you might say about Luther—and there's plenty to be said, and has been—"curbed aspirations for the best possible life" are not among them. On a guided bus tour of New Orleans, in fact, our guide told us that when the Lutherans arrived in New Orleans, they were declared "honorary Creoles," because, unlike the Protestants of America's Second Great Awakening, they liked to drink and dance and have a good time. So whatever is going on in the Nordic countries, it doesn't have anything to do with Lutheranism.