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Whoever has found happiness, that happiness she should hide

There’s a famous line by a 19th-century Finnish poet, “Kell’ onni on, se onnen kätkeköön”. Roughly translated, it means, “Whoever has found happiness, that happiness she should hide”.

Why, right? Good question.

In olden days, people were perhaps afraid to show that they were happy, in case it caused envy and brought them misfortune. It was alright to be secretly happy—to hide your happiness—but people were superstitious and thought that showing you were happy could get you into trouble.  150 years ago, life was also very hard. People were poor and, not long before this poem was written, many Finns had starved to death in a great famine that swept across the country. In times of great suffering, people frown upon the good fortune of others.

Today we think about happiness a bit differently, but there are still echoes of those sentiments expressed by the poem. Hide your happiness or it may be taken away!

For me personally, happiness is not something to pursue or strive for. Happiness is a by-product of doing what I love and trying to do it well. Happiness is something I feel when I stop to appreciate all the good things in life. Whether at work or at home, we strive to be accepted and loved. I feel most happy when I spend time with my family. Yes, they drive me crazy sometimes, but my family is also an endless source of joy. Looking at them, I realise how precious life is.

It’s so easy to focus on the negative things in life, to complain and whine and whinge and gripe. I think we humans enjoy complaining, since we seem to have a gazillion synonyms for the word ‘complain’. Coming from Finland, which for the past two years has been named the “Happiest Country in the World”, you might think that no one complains in my country. Well, you're wrong. There’s lots to complain about, starting with the weather. I still chuckle at what my late uncle Simo said when he heard people complain about the cold and rainy summer we were having: “Well, at least the summer is short!”

What can other nations learn from Finland? 

Thinking about the title “Happiest Country in the World”, I recognise a few big things that make a nation and its people happy.

  • The first is freedom from war. People want to live in peace, to work and raise a family 
    without fearing for their lives.
  • The second is freedom of government, freedom of speech and equality. People want to 
    have some say in their lives and to feel that they and their children have an equal opportunity to live a good life. To develop as a society, the people must have the right to choose their leaders and to influence the direction their country is taking.
  • The third is unity, working for the common good. While Finns are very individualistic 
    and independent, even prickly, in terms of personality, as a nation Finns agree about some very important rights that make life easier. They want affordable daycare, free education, free health care, a clean environment and a strong infrastructure, including public transport. To have these things, they are willing to pay taxes on time and honestly.

To tell you the truth, Finns are not particularly ‘happy’ people. My guess is you’ll find more smiles in the slums of Calcutta than in any modern city in Finland. However, in terms of the well-being of the whole nation, Finland is a happy country.

So how can we increase the well-being and happiness of our students?

I think it starts with recognising that every person is a unique individual. A child may be small, but he or she has rights and responsibilities just like the rest of us. We want our students to feel important, but for the right reasons. For being kind, for learning a new skill, for asking questions, for being a good friend, for sticking to the rules. A school should be a community where the well-being of all its members is important. Creating an environment that encourages learning and feeds the natural curiosity of children is something we are committed to at VFIS. In a safe environment, children have the freedom to explore and use their imaginations. Our teachers are trained to look at the world from the child’s point of view while guiding them to grow into healthy well-balanced adults. If we can help students find out what they love and what they’re good at, to find their passion, then we have helped them be happy.

International Day of Happiness 

It may seem a little inappropriate to be celebrating World Happiness Day when we are living in a global health crisis the likes of which none of us has experienced before. What is there to celebrate? And if there are moments when we feel happy, should we not hide it, considering the circumstances?

Dear Students and Parents, it is exactly at times like these that we must stop to appreciate the things that are good in our lives. It’s tempting to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders, and be crushed by it, but instead we should focus on how we can help our loved ones and the community. You can start by telling the person closest to you how much you love them.

In our communities, this is not a time to be selfish. Many people in Vietnam are working to keep the nation safe and our basic needs fulfilled. Some are volunteering their time and expertise. Each one of us can do something to help, whether it’s a big sister helping a sibling with schoolwork, a man going to the pharmacy for an elderly neighbour, a daughter calling her mother to make sure she has enough food and water, or a customer treating the girl at the cash register with kindness. Some of us have jobs that are very critical right now. I especially worry about all the people working in health care. They need all our support, so that they can do their jobs well and save lives.

As a student, you can do your part by helping your family and doing your schoolwork. It’s not easy, I admit, but by being responsible and helpful you make life easier for the people around you. Many of us feel anxious and stressed, but by being generous and kind to others, we ourselves benefit. The giver often feels more happiness than the receiver. Try it!