We’ve all had a challenging time lately, but why are some places rated better to live in than others, and what can we learn from them?
To find out, Radhika Sanghani meets the women living in the most joyful places on the planet.
Finland has been voted the world’s happiest place
Varpu Rusila, 34, online coach and founder of Her Finland, explains.
“We have a saying here that going outdoors is just a question of appropriate clothes. Our lifestyle is healthy and we’re really in touch with nature; almost everyone goes skiing, hiking and camping. It’s also about enjoying the little things. In our language, ‘successful’ relates to money and the external, and ‘happiness’ is internal.
So from a Finnish point of view, happiness is completely separate to success. It’s about embracing the now and being happy with what you’re doing, not what you have. When I left a good salaried job in retail to follow my dream, setting up my own business to help people experience Finnish culture, everyone supported me, even my bosses. There isn’t a social pressure here to have a ‘successful’ life. Work-life balance is also phenomenal here.
If you do your work within your eight hours, you’re seen as a good employee, and then you can relax and be with your family. We’re not perfect. Finns are super modest, so we don’t always promote ourselves or our country as much as we could. But we’re very down-to-earth and never want to bother people. We have no celebrity culture here – even the president has his coffee in the marketplace – and unlike in the UK, there isn’t a strong sense of hierarchy. We always use people’s first names instead of titles, we’re not formal. Life here is relaxed.”
London is said to be the city with the most sexually active women
Zara Janjua, 35, is a TV presenter and writer living in London.
“Two years ago, London was voted the world’s most sexually active city for women, based on high levels of sexual satisfaction, easy access to contraception and sex toys, and its gender-equal society. It’s partly why I moved from Scotland. Lots of my friends there were getting married and having kids. I wanted to meet people with a similar lifestyle to me as a young, single professional. London feels like the place to be, it’s full of single people.
I’m 35 and conscious of my biological clock, but for the first time in my life I’m not feeling pressure. Instead I’m having some fun and I love it. I’ve started dating men 10 to 12 years younger than me. They’re more openly affectionate – they don’t think twice about holding your hand – and it keeps things light. It’s easy to meet people who also want a physically intimate relationship but it’s harder to find people who want an emotional intimacy. People are upfront and say they’re looking for sex and if you’re not interested in just that, they’ll move on. They ask for what they want and, because of that, I do too. I’m lucky the relationships I have now with men I meet are really honest and respectful – even the casual ones.”
Brazil has been voted the best country in the world for dating
Livia Arbache, 28, is a lawyer in São Paulo.
“I think Brazilians are really open to new adventures. We like hugs, kisses and dancing together. It’s so easy to meet people here. We have carnivals, street parties and amazing beaches. In carnival some kiss 20 people in one day. It’s crazy. We say: ‘What you do in carnival stays in carnival.’ I normally meet people I date in bars or at barbeques, or even at people’s houses. I’ll go to a friend’s house, order pizza, have some drinks, then everyone starts calling everyone and inviting them over. Suddenly you have a house full of people you don’t know. It starts with a small reunion then you’re with a load of others having fun.
The other good thing in Brazil is that a woman can easily go and talk to a man in a bar and make the first move. You don’t need to wait. It’s not seen as unusual or negative. But often the men come to talk to you first anyway. We like to dance, so often you start dancing, then a man comes up to you and you dance together.
A lot of my friends date several men at the same time. I call it having a garden with lots of flowers and watering them all. Mine just has one flower at a time and when it’s dead, I’ll plant another one.
Dating apps for me are strange, but in the pandemic it’s been the only way to date. After chatting to people for a while, I’ll arrange to meet people for sunset walks. The only downside is that it’s less safe here for women than in Europe. I never think about how to get home from a bar abroad, but here, I feel afraid to walk the streets at night and I’ll never go alone.
But in Brazil, we’re also more liberal. There’s less expectation to go down a traditional route. I want a husband, two kids and a dog, but when I’m dating I try to just see where it goes. We’re more easygoing and don’t feel a lot of pressure. It’s best to not hurry too much and just enjoy it. The most important thing is to have fun.”
Canada has been voted the best country to work from home
Makeda Waterman, 37, works as a marketing consultant.
“Working from home is part of our culture. It’s been this way for a while – long before the pandemic, companies were embracing freelancers. About a third of our workforce are contractors, and they can make double what employees do. As a result, the cafe scene here is huge. In the US, people often get kicked out of cafes if they don’t buy anything. That doesn’t happen here. The cafes here are curious about freelancers and enjoy our presence. We also have beautiful libraries with really homey vibes where you see a lot of freelancers, students and retired people co-working.
I left the corporate world in 2016 after experiencing racism. You get a lot of stereotypical comments and I couldn’t deal with it anymore. The benefit of being freelance is I can pick and choose who I work with, and have freedom without office politics. My first two years freelancing were still isolating, but I got creative, visiting family in Miami and Barbados to work from their homes. I also make sure I keep developing, doing lots of online courses. And because others are going through the same thing, you can chat to those working in cafes or libraries and learn about different careers and paths to your own.”
Spain has been voted the most LGBTQ+ Friendly place in the world
Melania Cucca, 26, works at a second-hand store in Barcelona.
“I’ve lived in Barcelona almost all of my life and it certainly hasn’t been without its challenges. I used to identify as bisexual, and then as bollera – a slang word for lesbian that I prefer. As a teenager, I felt I had to keep my sexuality a secret, and when people found out about me and my first girlfriend, we were mocked.
However, as I got older, every-thing got better. My mum was always OK with it, and I’ve never faced any discrimination. At most, there can sometimes be a prejudice; I’m a feminine person, so people would assume I’m heterosexual or they’ll say, ‘You don’t really look gay.’ But overall, I’ve always felt pretty accepted living here.
We were one of the first countries to legalise gay marriage, and we have a lot of Pride events. I know a lot of queer people, so I go to queer spaces. There’s a really big scene here – a very commercial one, and also a very politically involved one. I go to the parties of both. I feel part of a community, and I have a really great circle of friends who are all very open and accepting. I’ve always used dating apps, and they’re really popular here, though I’ve been living with my partner for three-and-a-half years now. Barcelona isn’t perfect and there’s still not a lot of protection for trans youth, but I do think it’s a liberal city. I’ve learnt to only surround myself with people who are understanding.”
The Netherlands has the world’s best work-life balance
Susanne Maris, 41, lives in The Hague with her husband and two children. She is a psychologist who runs a training company for academics.
“I’ve never officially worked more than four days a week, even when I was single and didn’t have kids. You don’t have to fight for the right to work a four-day week at all; it’s a very common, accepted choice that helps people have more of a work-life balance. Although, of course, many women can end up still working unpaid outside of those hours. Companies I work with encourage employees to have a work-life balance, and it’s often managers telling employees to take a break, and that they don’t have to be at their computer 9-5. This is good, but it does come with a downside: I work with ambitious women who still have a hard time getting everything done the way they want it to be done. Women set high standards for themselves and feel they need to give it their best every time.
But compared to countries like the UK, I think we still have it better. We have a decent maternity leave system and most companies I work with often say things to employees like, ‘Just see what you can get done, we know you have kids.’ Unfortunately we’re still far away from true equality between men and women – we still have a pay gap. That’s something I hope to see change. Work-life balance is something you can definitely improve. You just need to pay attention to it and be willing to make changes, even if it’s cycling to work or going for a walk in the afternoon. It’s about managing your own time.”
This feature is part of the Positivity Project in partnership with Kellogg’s Special K, empowering Australian women to feel good, strong and confident in their own skin.