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Finding the source of happiness through Finnish adult education

According to the UN World Happiness Report, Finland is the happiest country in the world for the fourth time running.

Education has for a long time been valued in Finland and it has been regarded as one of the cornerstones of our nation’s 100-year success story. We can proudly state that, according to the UN World Happiness Report, we are the happiest country in the world for the fourth time running. But what is the link between different skills, such as life skills, with experiencing happiness in Finland?

How is happiness measured? In the UN World Happiness Report 2021,  the criteria for a happy country are the grand national product, life expectancy, the money used for charity, social support, freedom to make life choices, uncorrupted administration and the individual’s own experience of their happiness. These are important factors, but why is education not one of them?

It has been found, however, that the individual’s educational level statistically contributes to the happiness experienced by them. Björn Högberg, researcher of social policy at Umeå University, explains in an interview in the Tiede magazine (in Finnish) that studying improves happiness by guaranteeing a better income and security and by increasing the resources that help the individual live a healthier life and improve their life management.

But as we know, studying is not always only about achieving the highest possible education. Studies do not always need to be aimed at a qualification. In Finland, it is possible to complete individual courses or study modules for the purposes of general education both at open universities and at numerous liberal adult education institutions.

Philosopher Frank Martela, who has conducted research on the secret of a good life states that performance-oriented striving for happiness may only make happiness slip further away and lead to a “hedonic treadmill”. Martela emphasises that happiness is a by-product of doing meaningful things. According to Martela, meaningfulness stems from a good balance, being able to realise oneself and connecting with other people, for example, by helping others.


Happiness is a by-product of doing meaningful things. Photo: Shutterstock

Life skills that promote happiness

According to the Dictionary of Contemporary Finnish (Kielitoimiston sanakirja), life skills mean skills that promote life management. They are skills that can be learned and practised, and they promote the wellbeing of one's own and that of others. Skills such as self-awareness and working constructively as a member of a community can be considered the key life skills.

According to WHO, the most important life skills include problem-solving and decision-making skills, creative and critical thinking, self-awareness, empathy, interpersonal relationships, good communication skills and the management of stress and emotions. 

The courses offered by the Institute of Adult Education in Helsinki range from hair braiding courses for adults to Croatian for beginners, photo editing and Argentine tango. Although the studies provide societal benefits and may increase efficiency at work, their purpose is also to create wellbeing and promote life skills. In an online discussion in EPALE, Mahira Spiteri challenges readers to think about the benefits of adult education not only as an instrument of the economy, but  as an important factor increasing the learner's happiness.

For example, when you are practising playing a new instrument, you are also practising the above-mentioned life skills that promote happiness. Research evidence shows that happiness and satisfaction with life have been increased through training in anger and stress management, human relationships skills and management of emotions, in other words, by practising different life skills.


Almost 85% of the Finnish students of adult education centres feel that the studies have increased their sense of happiness. Photo: Shutterstock.

Achieving happiness through studying?

According to Edward Deci and Richard Ryan's self-determination theory, an individual’s psychological needs include autonomy, competence and relatedness. According to Abraham Maslow's widely known hierarchy of needs, factors leading to a happy life include self-actualisation and belongingness. There are 177 Finnish adult education centres with more students than in any other form of educational institution in Finland. Are these centres that provide communal learning experiences the key to the happiness of Finnish people?

A study conducted by Jyri Manninen, Professor of Adult and Continuing Education at the University of Eastern Finland, revealed that studying at an adult education centre increased the sense of happiness experienced by 84.1% of the respondents. In addition, 64.4% of the respondents reported that their efforts to follow a healthy lifestyle increased, 92.6% that their confidence in their ability to learn increased, 87.0% that their networks of friends and colleagues expanded, and 79.2% that their sense of belonging to a wider community increased. All of these factors are known to contribute to happiness.

Mihaly Csíkszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, by which he refers to happiness, forms when the challenges faced by the individual and their skills are in a suitable balance, for example, when learning new skills. Martin Seligman, the pioneer of positive psychology, is also of the view that the efforts and finding and using one's strengths promote happiness.

Meaningful activities, togetherness and realising oneself instead of pursuing happiness are also the operating principles of adult education centres. Perhaps this is the reason why almost 85% of the students of adult education centres feel that the studies have increased their sense of happiness.

Sources and links:


Paula Halme holds a Master of Arts degree in Education and has specialised in adult education. She has worked with children and young people especially in the field of NGO's and currently continues her journey in lifelong learning with HR tasks and social services studies. She also discusses issues related to learning and education in her blog


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