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Why is Norway on a downward happiness trajectory?

The World Happiness Report (WHR) published Monday placed Norway in seventh place. Despite the high ranking, Norwegians' happiness has been on a downward trend in recent years.

Pictured is a Norwegian nd a gloomy backdrop.
Happiness has been on a downward trend in Norway for a few years now, but why? Pictured is a Norwegian nd a gloomy backdrop. Photo by Nick Scheerbart on Unsplash

The UN Sustainable Development Network has been publishing the World Happiness Report (WHR) every year since 2012.

Approximately 1,000 people from each country participate in this survey annually and are asked to evaluate various aspects of their quality of life.

This year’s report ranks the quality of life in 137 countries. And, almost traditionally (and unsurprisingly), Finland ended up in first place. Denmark followed in second place, with Iceland right behind it.

Norway, on the other hand, ranked lowest among the Nordic countries – in seventh place – the most recent in a series of somewhat underwhelming scores (eighth place in 2022, sixth place in 2021, fifth place in 2020, third place in 2019) for a country that prides itself in its welfare state, work-life balance, and overall quality of life.

The drivers behind Norway’s falling happiness scores

On a scale from 1 to 10, Norway scored 7.3. At the same time, Finland registered a score of 7.8.

Happiness researcher Ragnhild Bang Nes at the National Institute of Public Health (FHI) told the news bureau NTB that Norway is generally expected to be high on the happiness scale but that there has been a downward trajectory in recent years.

“Challenges in Norway include a declining quality of life, especially among the young, and increasing inequality,” Bang Nes explained.

“It is a bit worrying that Norway has had a downward trend. This can probably be explained by the fact that for many years we had stable times in Norway, but in recent years, citizens have faced more hardship than they are used to,” she noted.

The researcher added that the negative trend could partly be related to the declining quality of life among young people during and after the pandemic, more challenging economic times, greater work life uncertainty, and inequality within the population.

“In Norway, we have also had sustained positive development in many areas in recent decades, not least in terms of prosperity. We may be less equipped to face today’s challenges in this country than people elsewhere,” Bang Nes said.

The happiness expert told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that probably the most important reason why a person experiences happiness is being part of a community.

“We need close ties, someone to lean on in crises. We need to be integrated,” Nes pointed out.

The top – and bottom – of the list

Countries plagued by war, such as Afghanistan and Lebanon, ended up at the bottom of the list, along with Sierra Leone.

On the other hand, eight of the top ten countries on the list are European, and the remaining two are Israel and New Zealand.

You can find the full report here.

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The most common complaints that foreigners have about Bergen

Bergen, Norway's second-biggest city, is a beautiful international hub that almost effortlessly captures the hearts of both visitors and new residents. However, even amidst its beauty and hospitality, some aspects of life in Bergen can leave you a bit frustrated.

The most common complaints that foreigners have about Bergen

It’s hard to overstate how magnificent Bergen actually is – due to its unique coastal location in western Norway, it’s commonly known as the “gateway to the fjords,” and it is widely popular as the starting point of many a fjord cruise.

Nestled among seven mountains, the city also offers almost limitless hiking and outdoor opportunities for nature lovers, and its rich cultural heritage (best embodied by the old Bryggen wharf and old town) draws in tens of thousands of tourists each year.

However, as is the case with city life in any town, even Norwegian urban gems have some aspects that leave visitors – and new residents – somewhat perplexed or frustrated.

The rain, does it ever stop?

If you’ve read any review of a trip to Bergen or a guide to the city, the first complaint you probably noticed was related to the weather.

The city is located on the coast and surrounded by mountains, so it has a very wet microclimate. How wet can it be, you ask? Well… Barely a day goes by that it doesn’t rain.

According to the latest figures, it rains in Bergen more than 230 days a year. If you moved to western Norway from a southern or eastern European country, you’ll likely quickly develop nostalgia for sunny and warm days back home.

But don’t give into depressing thoughts – the key to accepting Bergen’s weather is in adopting a lifestyle that is best described by local mantras such as “there is no bad weather, just bad clothes” and “if you wait for nice weather, you never actually leave the house.”

So, invest in some waterproof clothes and footwear, and start treating the rain like any other local – as an everyday fact of life in Bergen.

The dialect… This is not what I was taught in my language course!

Locals in Bergen speak a dialect (called bergensk) that is very different to the Norwegian language taught in many foreign language schools and which is closer to the eastern, Oslo dialect.

If you weren’t prepared for Norway’s linguistic diversity and wealth of dialects, this could come as somewhat of a negative surprise – especially if you have invested tens of thousands of kroner in language courses.

Instead of being angry at Bergen and its residents, complaining to anyone who’s willing to listen, try a different approach – pick up a local language course to upgrade your Norwegian language skills and master one of the key challenges related to this dialect, pronunciation.

Be patient and show yourself some grace. The transition to a new dialect will take (at least!) a couple of months. However, you can speed up the process by expanding your social circle and spending more time with the locals.

As a first step, you can also consult The Local’s beginner’s guide to the Bergen dialect.

Bybanen Flesland

Bergen Airport offers a broad range of regular services to more than 60 destinations. Photo by Jørgen Håland on Unsplash

Why aren’t there more flight options?

This is a complaint you’ll hear way too often once you relocate, considering the available flight routes from and to Beren.

While Bergen has more modest flight connections, if you compare them with those in the capital, Oslo, it is by no means poorly connected.

Bergen Airport (Flesland) currently offers an extensive range of regular services to various destinations (roughly 65), supplemented by a selection of seasonal or charter flights primarily during the summer months.

 Around twenty, operate regular flights out of Flesland, ensuring a comprehensive network of connectivity for travellers.

So, while Flesland might not offer flight routes to insert your European city of choice as the second-largest airport in the country, it does not deserve the bad rep it sometimes gets.

Bergen is so expensive!

When complaining about life in Norway, it’s quite common for people to mention its reputation for being expensive. This holds true for all of the country’s cities.

According to Eurostat, Norway ranks second in terms of food and non-alcoholic beverage prices in Europe. A report by Statistics Norway (SSB) in 2018 revealed that the cost of food and non-alcoholic drinks in Norway was 63 percent higher than the EU average.

The same report highlighted that food prices in Norway were 40 percent higher than in Sweden and 25 percent higher compared to Denmark… So, yes, the fact that Norway is expensive is well documented, and if you continuously lament about the high prices, you’ll likely start annoying even the typically stoic Norwegians.

The other side of the story is that, apart from being among the most expensive countries in Europe, Norway is also among the countries with the highest salaries and most generous welfare systems.

So, at the end of the day, most Bergen residents will tell you that the two sort of even each other out.

Don’t dwell on the negatives

While it’s important to acknowledge the occasional complaint voiced by foreigners about Bergen, it’s also important not to let these gripes overshadow the incredible experiences that await prospective visitors.

Instead of letting these perceived “downsides” of life in Bergen discourage you, why not embrace the city’s unique qualities, adopt local wisdom, and cultivate useful habits?

By doing so, both Bergen and Norway will warmly embrace you, despite their occasional rainfall, leaving you with enchanting memories and a resilient attitude that will prove invaluable when faced with challenging situations in life.