The Paradox of Swedish Happiness: Loneliness as Freedom

This is a real cold joke: When the new crown pneumonia epidemic was raging and the Swedish government required people to maintain a social distance of 2 meters, the local people were very nervous. Everyone began to discuss when the daily social distance of 5 meters could be restored. Sweden may be the only country where the distance between people has been shortened by the epidemic.

How alienated are the Swedes? Statistics show that among the 500,000 migrants of the right age in Sweden, only a quarter of them can find a partner within five years. Swedes have the highest divorce rate in Europe. The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) believes that Sweden is the most lonely country for foreigners.

But the paradox is that this Nordic country is always at the top of many happiness index reports and global livability rankings around the world. In other words, here, happiness seems to be something that can be accomplished independently, and another name for loneliness is freedom.

Swedes have not been offended during the pandemic despite bad jokes about social distancing in their country. There is even a Swedish proverb: “Lonely is strong.” Sweden allows people who live alone and independently to live with dignity.

If you travel to Sweden, you will find that the people here have long regarded individualism as the soul of the nation, and have implemented this concept into the functional structure design and daily behavior of the entire society.

For example, the streets of Sweden are lined with compact houses designed for single living. Even in Stockholm, where there is a housing shortage, the cost of living as a single person is still much lower than in other cosmopolitan cities such as London or San Francisco.

Hotels in Stockholm generally provide single beds. If passengers need a double bed, the hotel recommends that passengers put the two single beds together. Not only that, a well-known furniture retailer in Sweden even launched a special webpage, naming the sofa bed “My roommate snores”, the glass “The bear is finally gone”, and the cabinet with locks ” My sister always steals my things” to cater to the people’s yearning for living alone.

Traditional Swedes are also happy to enjoy another kind of solitude, which is more advanced and closer to the spiritual level. In Swedish, there is a unique word “Smultronställe”, which can be translated as “land of wild berries” – where wild berries appear, it is a place away from the hustle and bustle, a quiet time and space for the rich enjoyment of the soul, is Sweden People’s secret base.

They even invented a lot of special words to describe the lonely aesthetics of “Wildberry Land”, such as “moonlight falling on the water (Mångata)”, “listening to the morning birdsong (Gökotta)”, “sunrise dyeing the morning red (Morgonrodnad)” )”… This loneliness, as sweet as wild berries, is clearly the elusive happiness and freedom of the “brick mover”!

Of course, freedom is always conditional. The documentary “Swedish Love Theory” once put forward a soul torture: if one party depends on the other, how can you know that the relationship is voluntary and not established for economic or other reasons? In other words, individuals must have the ability to independently bear risks, on this basis, the discussion about “freedom” is meaningful.

Make no mistake, Swedish solitude or freedom is expensive. Things start in the 1970s. Sweden has accumulated primitive wealth by using a large amount of iron ore, wood products, and steel products exported after World War II. At the same time, it has implemented high tax system reforms, trying to build a “rich and equal” welfare system so that everyone can stand on their own.

In other words, Sweden takes care of every citizen by replacing the role of the traditional family with the government, from childcare, entrepreneurship, medical care to pensions. As a result, the Swedes who “don’t need to provide for the elderly and don’t need to raise children” only need to bear their own lives, and even when individuals encounter bankruptcy or major changes, the government can still cover them.

This unprecedented welfare system was originally intended to encourage people to follow their heart and choose marriage freely, but when people can get enough protection “from the cradle to the coffin” so that they have no worries, they realize that marriage is not necessary .

In Sweden, there is a very unique form when people choose their marriage status: Sambo. It is a state somewhere between married and unmarried, a combination of the Swedish words samman (together) and boende (to live), which literally means “to live together”. This literal meaning nicely outlines this simple cohabitation relationship. Sambo is protected by law, and the procedure is convenient. As long as two people live together for more than 6 months, they will be regarded as living together. What’s more, in Sweden, “being apart at any time” is more convenient than “being together”, and there is no cooling-off period.

In the words of the Swedes, it is precisely because of the freedom to leave that we can truly choose to be together. When cohabitants separate, only the house and its contents are jointly owned by both parties, and vehicles, investments, debts, inheritance rights, etc. are still independent affairs of both parties. When we are together, imagine a common future; when we are apart, our respective futures will not collapse. In Sweden, whether it is love or marriage, “if it is for freedom, both can be thrown away.”

Sweden’s high-welfare system has been in operation for half a century. While people praised it for guaranteeing freedom, it was discovered that 11% of women and 17% of men in Sweden had no close friends at all, and 3.5% of women and 2.8% of men had almost no close friends. 40% of Swedish adults feel lonely when it comes to seeing friends and relatives.

Although “loneliness” is not necessarily a pejorative term, the fact is that Sweden has become recognized as the loneliest country in the world. If “Wildberry Land” shows the wonderful side of living alone, the other truth is that freedom and loneliness are sometimes not so sweet.

Today, about half of all Swedish households are made up of single adults without children, including many elderly people. Don’t think that these old people will be “troublesome”. The “individualism” that runs through the life of the Swedish people is even more vividly displayed in the old people in Sweden. They often greet death with a more active attitude. From the age of 50, they will clean up their belongings in an orderly manner, removing the chaff and keeping the chaff, so that they will not bother their relatives with their foreign objects after death. This art called “death cleaning” originated in Sweden, and finally became popular in Europe and the United States.

In the field of “death cleaning”, the 80-year-old Swedish woman Margarita Magnussen can be said to be an expert.

Magnuson recommends that the elderly should dispose of items such as clothing with a low degree of emotional attachment first, and items that can be passed on to future generations last. As for Magnussen herself, she even made homemade paper cutout models as souvenirs before throwing away the furniture. In the end, she purposely packed out a large box of items that were of great significance to herself, such as diaries that made her laugh or cry silently, for the rest of her life to remember. But these items were only personally meaningful to her, so she left clear instructions in the box that, should that day ever come, the relics would need to be destroyed immediately rather than being read aloud at the funeral.

In addition, the BBC once broadcast a documentary about “Death Cleaning”, reminding people that with the development of the Internet, it is necessary to keep an electronic account password book for future generations. Because more and more people are connected to the world around them through digital footprints, a large amount of “life data”, including photos, diaries, music, books, etc., exists in digital rather than physical form. Whether the accounts of various social networking sites are inherited or canceled, there must be a result, instead of letting them float in nothingness on the Internet.

The Swedes believe that “death cleanliness” is the best gift they can leave to future generations. “I really don’t want my relics to cause too much trouble to my beloved children and their families after I’m gone.” Magnussen’s emotion can be said to be a classic Swedish farewell.

Enjoy the freedom brought by individualism, bear the hidden risks of individualism, and finally face the dark side of individualism’s loneliness – only in this way can loneliness be strong and transformed into real freedom and happiness.

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