Lessons in Resilience from Iceland

resilience keynote speakerDue to the pandemic, the whole world is being tested. Will some countries do better than others? Yes. And my money is on Iceland to show resilience in stressful times.

Iceland is a small island in the North Atlantic. With a population of 364,134 across 40,00 Square miles, it is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. 

Usually, an economic crisis leads to a decrease in well being. Not in Iceland. 

The economic crisis in 2008 saw Iceland's economy near collapse. Yet, it had a limited effect on happiness, 25% of Icelanders reported greater satisfaction. 

Happiness is an inside job. However, some entire countries are happier and more resilient than others. When it comes to resilience, happiness is a top marker of your ability to find strength in the struggle.

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The United Nations World Happiness Report comes out yearly to report how well being varies from country to country. According to the report, happiness is decreasing around the world. However, One nation, Iceland continually ranks high in happiness scores.

I can see why. 

A few years ago, my mom, sister and two aunts all travelled together to Reykjavik, Iceland.  We were there to piece together a part of our family heritage. Our journey was also timed around my mom running the Reykjavik marathon.

We rented a car.  We planned to make a road trip around the small Island in one day.



As we embarked on our journey, one thing was clear, Iceland is very friendly. People like each other here. They all seem to know each other.  

According to the happiness report, one of the most important contributors to happiness is social relationships. In Iceland, the size and seclusion of the Island foster more intimate relationships. Environmental factors often keep cultures from feeling connected, safe and happy. Not in Iceland. Its geography and culture bring people closer. 

In economic turmoil, you need to rely on social relationships to get through. Isolation is not the answer. In times of trouble, we need to pull together and support each other. 

On our road trip, one-stop is most memorable to me. It was an accommodation mom arranged through Airbnb and by far our most expensive stay. 

We arrived late after travelling all day. The accommodation was quaint. 

Worn terracotta tile floors hinted at how old the building was. We tried to negotiate the massive fee for our stay but to no avail. There we were in the lobby trying to bridge together credit cards and cash to get a good night sleep. The innkeeper looked at us with disbelief. There was a language barrier.




In Iceland, people trust each other. It's tourists they aren't sure of.  Iceland is peaceful and safe. They have never had an army, and they rank low on crime statistics. 

A Lopsided staircase led us to a small but beautiful suite. Greeted by a man at the top of the stairway, I wondered if we were to share the accommodation with him. Thankfully we weren't. 

We went to the nearby pub and were shocked at the price of a beer. We stayed up late, laughed a lot and imagined what it felt like to live like our ancestors. 

I imagine them to be very happy. And resilient.




The beauty of the Island reveals a natural easiness that we don't know in our busy, structured world back home. It didn't seem like people in the country had high paying jobs ( unless they own an Airbnb), but they were happy.

Money can't buy happiness in Iceland. Studies reveal Income only predicts 1 per cent of happiness in Iceland. It's a low predictor of satisfaction when compared to social relationships which rank high.

We will all struggle with the aftermath of a global pandemic. If our happiness is pegged to Income or success, the struggle deepens. Social Bonds and the beauty of their surroundings make Iceland Resilient.




According to the Happiness Report, Happiness is distributed equally in Iceland. One part of Iceland is not happier than any other. It's rare to find a culture where happiness doesn't vary between population groups. We can only be so happy if everyone around us suffers. Female Keynote Speaker Resources


Icelanders have access to quality education. Everyone has the opportunity to enhance their knowledge and grow. There is relative equality in all age and gender groups.  It's illegal to pay women less than men to do the same job.




Icelanders have developed a growing resilience. This Island has been through a lot. They have experienced everything from Volcanic eruptions that decimate the Island. Some of the health effects were highly toxic and disrupted life for years to come. But the Island survived, and some might say thrived. Icelanders have been near economic collapse several times. 

Iceland suffers some pretty harsh, dark winters but nobody complains. Their stubborn optimism gets them through. Just like their ancestor Vikings, they are heroes in the face of adversity. 


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