In December 2018, ‘The Frisian paradox’ buzzed in regional and national media. The FSP brought the Frisian paradox to the attention because it is a striking apparent contradiction. Money makes happiness, it seems to be a truth like a cow. But less money does not necessarily make Frisians unhappy, according to research by the FSP. On the contrary.

Of course we have a number of suspicions based on the research we have carried out in recent years. We also invited others to look into this and think along with us. The reactions were overwhelming. People from all walks of life approached us to give their views on this paradox. Based on these reactions and our own expectations, here are a number of possible explanations that we will work on in the future. These are not mutually exclusive and the underlying mechanisms certainly overlap, but they help to give us a starting point for in-depth research into the Frisian Paradox.

What is the Frisian Paradox?

A paradox is an apparent contradiction that at first seems to go against prevailing logic, but on closer examination or reflection it turns out to contain some form of truth and can be solved according to the rules of logic. The Frisian paradox is such an apparent contradiction. There are an awful lot of studies on prosperity, social economic class, education, health and well-being that always show a connection between the degree of prosperity and people’s sense of happiness. The connection is not always direct, but it is unmistakable. Fryslân consistently scores low when it comes to matters that determine social economic status, such as income and education. Based on previous research and prevailing logic, Fryslân should therefore also score low on welfare indicators such as perceived happiness, health and volunteering. But this does not appear to be the case in Fryslân. Despite the low scores on economic indicators, Fryslân scores high on many welfare indicators. See there, the Frisian paradox. Having less financially, but still being happier. What is going on here?

1. Appreciation of peace and quiet

The experienced peace and space could be a first possible explanation for the experienced well-being of the inhabitants of Fryslân. Fryslân is the least built-up province of the Netherlands and 67% live in little or no urban area compared to 34% rural (FSP LiF, 2019). Several studies show that people in more urban areas are less happy. Because more than two-thirds of the inhabitants live in unurbanised areas, this could be an explanation for experiencing more happiness than the average in the Netherlands.

Moreover, panel research by the FSP also shows that the Frisian landscape and the peace and quiet and space are very valuable for many inhabitants. After encoding thousands of open answers, it turned out that nature and landscape as well as peace and quiet and space are in the top 3 of subjects that Fryslân residents are very positive about or proud of when it comes to Frisian society. This affinity with the landscape and the peace and space can contribute to the experienced happiness of the Frisians.

2. Strong social cohesion, mienskip feeling

Much research shows that strong social cohesion is good for welfare. The term ‘mienskip’ is unavoidable in this context. People need a social network in order to live happily. In the event of setbacks, you can fall back on these resources. In Fryslân this network is on average larger and stronger than elsewhere. Trust in each other is high in Friesland. Helping each other here is considered very normal and nowhere else do people volunteer so much. This strong mutual social bond is also a possible explanation for the experienced happiness of the inhabitants of Friesland.

3. Strong egalitarian province

In Fryslân the differences between people are less than elsewhere. This is about socio-economic and cultural differences. Fryslân is therefore a strongly egalitarian province. From global research on happiness and well-being we know that people in countries with more equality in material prosperity experience more happiness and well-being. Socio-economically, the entire Netherlands is fairly egalitarian compared to other countries. In Fryslân this is even more the case. For example, there are relatively fewer people with high incomes. Also social and cultural differences seem small in Fryslân. There are relatively few people with a non-western background, few university graduates and many people who have their roots in Fryslân. When people are confronted with great inequality, this often affects the experienced happiness. In short, if the grass next door is actually just as green, there is less reason for dissatisfaction.

4. Frisian language and culture

In addition to the experienced bond with the Frisian landscape, many Frisian inhabitants also have a strong bond with Fryslân itself. Especially the culture and having their own language are central to this. According to a large part of the contributors, this could also be a possible explanation for the Frisian paradox. Belonging to it’ is crucial in our existence, an own culture and identity can contribute to the feeling of belonging and thus contribute to a higher level of happiness. The downside is that the same mechanism can also cause exclusion. From our panel research on Frisian identity, the Frisian language proved to be of great importance for identity and bonding, but also a divisive factor when it comes to bonding between Frisians and non-Frisians. The link between experiencing one’s own identity and experiencing well-being and happiness is an interesting direction for further literature research based on scientific literature.

5. Autonomy important in Frisian society

From the health sciences we know that those who feel they can strongly influence their own life and health make choices that lead to a happier life with more health and well-being. A lot of research has been done on this, so-called ‘locus of control’ research. Autonomy is a concept that suits the attitude of many Frisians, the self-solving capacity seems to be quite developed in many people. The results of Panel Fryslân showed that the majority of the panel members feel ‘co-responsible’ for their living environment and seem to expect a little less from the government than in, for example, Groningen and Drenthe. If you expect less and do more yourself, you also experience less disappointment and are more satisfied. This point, too, is interesting to explore in more detail. Is it true that residents of Fryslân are also more autonomous and self-reliant in practice and does this actually influence their perception of well-being and happiness?

6. Money and status are less important in Fryslân than elsewhere

Many reactions we received concerned in summary: “money does not make happiness and we know that well here in Fryslân”. This seems to indicate that inhabitants of Fryslân are less focused on ‘capital’ in the sense of economic capital than elsewhere. Research into the educational careers of young people in Friesland has also shown that less importance is attached to money and status. Issues such as geographical proximity and cultural proximity are often weighted more heavily than the highest possible education that could lead to more income and status. There are more definitions of capital. Think not only of economic capital, but also of personal capital, social capital and cultural capital. Economic capital is about having sufficient income and capital. Personal capital includes good health and vitality. The aforementioned social network forms the social capital. Cultural capital is, for example, about lifestyle and digital skills. The emphasis on and availability of forms of capital other than economic capital is also a possible explanation for the high level of happiness among the inhabitants of Friesland.

7. Security

Safety is a basic need and has a strong relationship with quality of life and the degree of satisfaction and happiness. Fryslân scores very high when it comes to the safety that residents experience and also the registrations of crime and nuisance are lower in Fryslân than in most other parts of the country. Also the social safety is experienced as good, especially in the countryside where people know each other. A safe environment is taken for granted by many people in Fryslân and is therefore hardly mentioned as a factor for great well-being. We know from research that if that safety decreases, in the house or outside, it leads directly to stress and a decrease in well-being. The figures on liveability are decreasing considerably in the earthquake area of Groningen and this is largely due to the decrease in safety. It is good to continue to monitor the safety experience in Fryslân in changing circumstances. (source: www.fsp.nl)