It’s an age old extensional question: What is the secret to happiness?
To unlock the answer, 31-year-old Akso Heart took a four-day happiness masterclass at a beautiful Finnish Lakeland resort — and said the secret lies in nature, fresh food and limiting materialism and societal pressure.
“Everything seemed like a natural way of being” and people avoided “unnecessary wants or needs,” Heart, of London, told The Post about his experience being one of just 14 people picked by tourism officials in Finland — the “world’s happiest country” — for the class earlier this month.
“We never really take the time to stop, pause, and think about our decisions,” the Brit said, adding that he and the other contest winners learned to “prioritize your mental well-being first — which isn’t very common in other countries.”
Mornings during the four-day retreat began with a dip in a crisp lake followed by an invigorating sauna session and a farm-to-table breakfast.
It was “tremendous,” said Heart, an artist who also works as a content creator for a pharmaceutical company under his given name Abdul Rashidi.
Heart was one of 150,000 people who vied for a spot in the happiness masterclass, and was chosen even after he gave a TikTok auto-generated interviewer sarcastic answers during the application process.
“I was very surprised I was chosen,” Heart said last week, adding that he did give a heartfelt written response about what he was looking to get out of the seminar.
“I was kind of determined to figure out what is it about the culture that makes them happy,” he said.
Finland has been ranked as the world’s happiest country for six straight years by the World Happiness Report, which ranks nations by their GDP per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom, generosity and corruption or lack thereof.
Others chosen for the seminar at the lush Kuru Resort were between the ages of 20 and 50 and hailed from places including New York, Turkey, Italy, France and Japan. Guests enjoyed sauna-equipped private villas “surrounded by fragrant pine forests and breathtaking views,” according to Heart and organizers.
The travelers also ate lots of fish and berries prepared by a personal chef and met with locals in the bustling capital of Helsinki and people living off the grid in more rural areas of Finland.
“It was kind of like a reality show,” Heart said, describing how a contestant from Japan proposed to his girlfriend on the last day of the seminar in Helsinki.
“In the short time we spent together, we definitely made life-long connections,” said Heart, who vlogged about his experience.
One thing that separated the Finns from other Westerners is their “unique connection to nature,” and a culture that de-emphasizes status symbols and greed, Heart observed.
“It’s not as materialistic as other countries, where they are consumed with impressing people with your clothing and your house; that doesn’t exist there in my experience,” he said.
“Of course, money is privilege, and we don’t have to worry about things that other people would have to that have less … but it was more the mentality people had, rather than what types of clothes, or money or their jobs.”
The possessions that Finnish people did own seemed to mean more to them than in other places, thanks in part to a focus on smart design — with value being assigned to things based on “how long [the item] it will last or how it will make them feel,” Heart recalled.
The contestants also learned how to forage, fish and cook for themselves, which is a trademark of the Scandinavian nation — and a contrast to the processed food more common in the US and UK, he added.
One particular instance that made a big impression was a visit to a farm that had been in a family for “generations upon generations.”
However, the family’s youngest daughter told the group she was more interested in music than farming.
“My family would support me selling this farm and following my dreams,” she said, according to Heart.
“When it comes to careers and life they really put themselves forward and there’s no judgment on ‘OK you’ve got to do this, or ‘you should go down this path’ or ‘you need to have a family,’” he recalled.
“Everyone looks out for themselves first, but not in a selfish way,” Heart added, saying that people were both open-minded and supportive.
“It’s not even the country itself or even the lifestyle; it’s the culture, the mentality,” he said.
That topic also came up in group workshops during the seminar.
“We talked about trusting ourselves and our decisions and that was a very emotional topic for a lot of the contestants, including myself,” Heart said.
Finland has continued to top the annual happiness list even though it borders Russia, which is ranked 74th, and also lacks the warm climate that many would associate with wellbeing.
“I think that was quite a surprising thing for us as well, how close it was to certain regions that are obviously going through some tough times… but there was no worry about that,” Heart said.
The US was 15th on this year’s list while the UK came in at 19th.
“I’ve always thought, give me the sun that’s all I need [to be happy] but truthfully I think it’s the daily life,” Heart said.
“You look at London, yes it’s rainy and gloomy, but more than that, I think what stresses us out are the stresses of life.”