Norway ranks number one in happiness among nations, according to the 2017 World Happiness Report. Having lived here now for seven months with my husband and two children, I can see why.
Many of the things that worried me or wore me down when I lived in the United States I rarely think about here. My middle-class neighborhood in Minneapolis was plagued by home and car burglaries. Not so here in Oslo where — yes, it is true — people often do not lock their front doors.
Back home, we lost a young neighbor to gun violence; an acquaintance lost his father in a mass shooting. I worried about the safety of my children at school. Not for a moment here have I worried about personal safety. My evening Norwegian class ends well after dark and I make the 15-minute walk through the city alone, something I never would have done in Minneapolis.
Norwegians do own guns — over 25 percent of households have them — but by law they must be unloaded and the ammunition and firearms locked away. The police here patrol unarmed. I was active in the gun-violence-prevention movement in Minnesota. Here, I never think about guns.
Back home, I spent well over two hours on the road every day, driving our young teenage children to and from their high-pressure, test-focused school. Here in Oslo, I wave good-bye to the kids as they walk down the street and head for the city subway line a 10-minute walk from our apartment. They travel on their own to a school several miles away in the heart of a busy downtown district, and make their way home on their own as well.
When they get home, unlike in Minneapolis, they do not complain about a mountain of homework or the stress of studying for yet another exam. Homework for eighth- and ninth-graders here is still modest in amount, intended not to develop discipline and efficiency in the face of a multitude of various tasks, but to encourage curiosity.
In Minnesota, I spent so much time in the car that I had trouble fitting a trip to the gym into my weekly schedule. We imported our car to Norway, but I never drive. The mass transit system is comprehensive and excellent. It is also expensive. I choose to walk — everywhere. I have never been happier or in better physical shape.
As for health care, something much on the minds of many Americans, we feel secure. Our first interaction with the health care system came in the form of a letter, about two months after we moved here, stating that I had an appointment for a free pap smear and mammogram. A month later, we received a notice that both our children had appointments to see a dentist. The dentist referred my son to an orthodontist. His braces cost about what they would have in the U.S., but the government here will cover 75 percent of the cost. Fortunately, none of us has been sick since moving to Oslo, but we know that we, as residents here, have access to health care that is virtually free.
These are just some of the factors that have made our life in Norway less stressful than it was in America and may account for why Norway scored at the top in this year’s happiness survey. Those conducting the survey cite six key factors in determining happiness: social support, trust (in government and businesses), perceived freedom to make life choices, generosity, healthy years of life expectancy and GDP/person.
The U.S., while still in the top 20 countries, fell in rank the last several years. But we did not weigh the happiness factors in our decision to move to Norway. The “pull” was an exciting job opportunity for my husband.
One hundred years ago, a potential job beckoned my grandfather away from Norway to America, the land of opportunity. At that time, it was a smart move on his part. We hope ours has been as well.
Rebecca Lowen lives in Oslo, Norway.