What Do Parents in The Happiest Country in the World Do that We Don’t?

Just loved this snappy piece on the CNBC website, “I’m a psychology expert in Finland, the No. 1 happiest country in the world — here are 3 things we never do.” Instructive and brief!

First, says author Frank Martela, Finns don’t flaunt or compare their wealth as much. Good.

Second, they try to spend time in nature — a simple, obvious idea (especially if you’re surrounded by reindeer and Northern Lights).

Finally — and most saliently for us — in trust they trust. Not only do folks routinely return lost, valuable items, like computers and wallets. They also trust their kids going out and about. Martela says:

Kids also often take a public bus home from school and play outside without supervision.

Both those things are so important on so many levels.

Allowing kids to take public transit means that:

1 – Kids are trusted to be smart enough to figure out how to get around, and mature enough to be part of the adult world.

2 – Adults are used to kids being on their own and don’t call 911 to report seeing one.

3 – Kids are treated like humans, not lost pets.

Letting kids play outside without supervision means that:

1 – The idea of kids interacting with strangers does not automatically strike terror. Regular life has not been turned into a “Taken” movie.

2 – Parents can stay inside when their kids go out. That way, kids get a lot more outside time. Not many adults can take off every afternoon from 3 to 7 (and all of Saturday and Sunday) to stand outside, watching their kids. So when constant supervision is demanded, kids end up spending a lot more time inside or in adult-supervised activities. Only normalizing unsupervised time gives kids back a big swath of time for free play.

3 – The more that kids are outside, unsupervised, the more they are practicing all the important skills Mother Nature programmed them to learn through exploration and play: How to make things happen, explain ideas, get lost, get mad, get back on track, try something new, take tiny risks… They get a lot more chances to grow bold, creative, and engaged.

4 – And when kids are playing outside, they’re not on the couch, on their devices.

It takes recognizing what has disappeared in America but still exists in Finland — the ability to believe in our kids, our communities, our common decency — for us to realize: These must be restored.

At Let Grow we are working on precisely that. The Let Grow Project (the homework assignment that tells kids to “Go home and do something new, on your own”) gets parents to give their kids some unsupervised time in the world. Kids can use it to play, run an errand, walk to school, etc. Parents end up practicing the trust the Finns haven’t lost yet.

The Let Grow Play Club restores time for free play, albeit on the playground at the school. Schools stay open for kids to make their own games, solve their own spats. It’s like a wildlife sanctuary, except instead of saving tigers and elephants, it saves an old-fashioned (dare we say…Finnish?) childhood.

The things that make people happy are pretty basic. They’re also free. Let’s get going!