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Finland is the happiest country in the world for the seventh year running, according to the latest World Happiness Report.

Two major factors help Finns find happiness at work: a high level of trust in institutions and colleagues, as well as a strong focus on work-life balance, says Miika Makitalo, CEO of HappyOrNot.

The Finland-based company makes the smiley-faced feedback buttons used in airports and other retail spaces around the world. It employs 56 people in Finland, who are of 15 different nationalities, as well as some 15 people in the U.S. and around 5 workers in the U.K.

As a business leader, Makitalo says there are three phrases in particular that capture the Finnish mentality around finding happiness and contentment at work.

‘No one is born a smith.’

Essentially, this phrase underscores that “no one is born as a professional,” and “there’s always things to learn,” Makitalo says.

The phrase is meant to empower people to aspire to do great work, even if they’re still learning on the job.

Miika Makitalo is the CEO of HappyOrNot in Finland.

Miika Makitalo is the CEO of HappyOrNot in Finland. Courtesy of subject

“If you dream of something, go for it,” he says. “Apply for the positions you aspire to. And when you land something, learn how to do it.”


Experts agree that having a growth mindset at work, or believing that you can improve your skills with practice, is an attractive quality in a star worker.

The Finnish phrase also emphasizes that it’s OK to make mistakes in the learning process, as long as you use those experiences and any constructive feedback to improve.


It’s a comforting idea, Makitalo says, that “it’s not required or expected to master [something] on day one. Have mercy on oneself.”

‘Serious business matters are taken care of; otherwise, we’ll be like Mary’s chickens on the loose.’

This phrase comes from the classic Finnish novel, The Unknown Soldier, and is used to say that a team of soldiers will take care of matters expected of them, Makitalo says. After accomplishing the task, they’ll take it easy with the idea of being “chickens on the loose” as a positive thing: They’ve done their job and will use the rest of their time as they see fit.

Funny imagery aside, Makitalo says this phrase is meant to highlight the flat hierarchies common in Finnish work cultures. The main takeaway is, “Anything that is urgent will be taken care of. But we don’t care about structures, bosses — don’t come here telling me what to do,” Makitalo says. “I know what I should be doing. And I’m setting the priorities.”

As CEO, Makitalo says he supports hearing feedback directly from his employees. “Anyone in the organization can come to me and say, ‘Miika that doesn’t make any sense. Correct the strategy.’”


“I think that’s good feedback, especially if it’s based in facts,” he says.

Finnish workers may have different roles and supervisory responsibilities, but “we are all equal contributors, and this amplifies that,” Makitalo says.


It also prevents micromanaging behaviors and can empower workers to take ownership of their work. “When everyone in the organization knows the strategy and vision, they can act on their own and they don’t need to be told what is required,” he adds.

‘“Forward” said the granny in the snow.’

Another visual metaphor, this phrase is meant to help people work through challenges.

Lennox Mall

There’s a mindset of: Let’s not worry, let’s not dwell on it, it will be taken care of when starting moving forward.

Miika Makitalo


“There’s this playful idea that, even in four feet of snow, even a granny can say, ‘Hey this is not a big deal,’” Makitalo says.

This phrase might come up during a long meeting where people can’t decide on the next point of action. At a certain point, Makitalo says, you have to move forward and address the unknowns as they come up.


“The idea is, let’s get things done,” he says. “So there’s a mindset of: Let’s not worry, let’s not dwell on it, it will be taken care of when starting moving forward.”


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