fb-pixel Skip to main content

I am spiritually Finnish

The Finns eschew small talk and avoid crowds. They don’t swarm beaches or pack into bars. And they’re suspicious of happiness. They’re my kind of people.

Lesley Becker/Globe Staff; Adobe

I keep a file on people who seek to be “Spiritually Finnish.” I now realize that I am one of them.

Chinese millennials, for instance, created the word jingfen, meaning “spiritually Finnish,” because they so admired and envied the Finns’ legendary standoffishness. The Finns guard their personal space “extremely seriously,” according to The Guardian. They eschew small talk and avoid crowds.

There is a hilarious cartoon series called “Finnish Nightmares,” depicting situations Finns try to avoid at all costs, e.g., meeting a neighbor in the apartment hallway, or sitting next to a stranger on a bus. Because, well, other people.


Finns don’t swarm beaches or pack into bars, not during a pandemic or ever, for that matter. A favored Finnish pastime is Kalsarikannit, which roughly translates as “drinking at home in your underwear.” Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has created a helpful video showcasing two new underwear-drinking emojis, in which Finns helpfully explain how to pronounce the word.

The Finns were socially distanced before it was fashionable, and they intend to stay that way.

It will come as no surprise that the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare reports “the coronavirus epidemic’s status is currently peaceful in Finland.” This is a country run by women, not idiots.

Yes, Finland’s prime minister and 47 percent of its Parliament are women. Thirty-four-year-old Sanna Marin leads a coalition government of five political parties, all headed by women. There is a female Finance Minister, Interior Minister, Minister of Justice, and more. They remind me of New Hampshire in 2012, when the governor, both US senators, and both US representatives were women. But I digress.

I’ve visited Finland several times. It’s great. Everyone speaks a billion languages, loves saunas, and is very, very careful what they say about their southern neighbor, Russia. This is because (1) Russia once owned them and (2) Finland is one of the rare countries that pasted the Red Army, during the Winter War of 1939-1940. That is a fact that people like Vladimir Putin do not like to be reminded of.


The capital Helsinki is a fun town; it’s like Oslo without the glitz.

The trait I most admire in the Finns is their suspicion of happiness. Finland scores at the top of the annual World Happiness Report, and it just bums them out. In 2018, Frank Martela of Aalto University took to the pages of Scientific American to explain that “the happiness of the Finns has been greatly exaggerated.”

Among Western countries, Martela wrote, Finland scores second in unipolar depressive disorders behind the United States. “Paradoxically then, the same country can be high on both life satisfaction and depression,” he wrote. “Maybe that’s why Finland has the highest number of heavy metal bands per capita in the world.”

Finland even has a heavy metal band called Hevisaurus, which performs in dinosaur costumes, for children. That’s right — Finns have a sense of humor! Did you hear about the man who disappeared en route to Helsinki? He vanished into Finnair.

Have you ever come across those 10-question “Depression Tests” in magazines or on websites, which inquire if you haven’t been sleeping well, or are feeling sad, or don’t enjoy the company of other human beings? If you answer “Yes” to six or more, you need professional help, yadda, yadda, yadda.


I always check every box, and used to worry that I was chronically depressed. Now it’s clear: I am spiritually Finnish! I am (virtually) home at last.

Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.