Yvonne Kristín Fulbright
Updated: Apr 16, 2020
In these uncertain times, with global panics on more than one front, I’ve found myself thinking of the notorious Icelandic saying “Þetta reddast.“ In conversations with my fellow Icelanders, no matter how bad the news on the coronavirus (COVID-19) or its economic impact, we‘ve been reassuring each other with „Þetta reddast.“ And we truly believe it will. It has to.
Regarded as an Icelandic motto of sorts, “Þetta reddast“ captures the country‘s philosophical outlook on life. It basically means „this (Þetta) will work itself out in the end.“ When uttered, the sentiment is that everything will be all right. A solution will always reveal itself. And Icelanders should know.
Icelanders are used to life being challenging. Centuries of hardship have resulted in a hardy mentality, one combined with a sense of surrender and laissez-faire attitude toward life. Foreigners have found this stance annoyingly carefree. But Icelanders surrendered themselves, long ago, to being made inconsequential in a climate and landscape full of uncertainty, knowing there will always be another volcanic eruption, earthquake, hurricane force winds, or avalanche to deal with. Their forefathers (and mothers!) endured extreme poverty, deadly volcanic eruptions, high infant mortality, indentured servitude, and brutal living conditions.
So this “Þetta reddast“ (pronounced: „thet‘ tah redt‘ ahst“), laid back approach to life is a coping mechanism of sorts. And no matter what they‘ve been through, Icelanders manage to carry on with a positive fatalism, believing that one can find happiness in spite of life‘s realities.
A 2017 poll conducted at the University of Iceland found that nearly half of Icelanders report living their lives according to „þetta reddast.“ Over half of respondents confirmed feeling „very“ or „rather“ lucky. And lucky them, indeed, since there‘s a strong correlation between luck and happiness, with happier people significantly likelier to consider themselves lucky.
Perhaps a great example of such optimism is the mini-Baby Boom Iceland experienced nine months into its crippling financial crisis years ago. In August 2009, the birthrate increased by 3.5% - the highest number of deliveries in Iceland in at least half a century. While experts don´t want to attribute this uptick to the financial collapse entirely, given birthrates were already rising before the collapse, it speaks to the Icelandic mentality that everything is going to be okay, that life goes on.
In light of recent events, people around the world are joking that we can expect a Baby Boom in nine months. But Icelanders may be the only population that actually delivers, literally. Throughout history and around the world, there has been a decrease in births with wide-spread adversity, e.g., the Great Depression. The 2009 mini-Baby Boom in Iceland can be possibly explained in that some had more time on their hands in being suddenly unemployed. With emotions high from the collapse of the nation´s biggest banks, some may have been looking for comfort.
Then there is this trust Icelanders have that this will all get sorted, that fortune will smile upon you in leaving things to fate.
Icelanders are very self-sufficient in spite of being a country with great social support. Less than a generation ago, many families survived as fishermen or farmers, with a number of today‘s elderly growing up in households where milking a cow, collecting the sheep, knitting sweaters, churning butter, maintaining a potato garden, making rhubbarb jam, baking bread... were all a part of liveihood. At the same time, Icelanders have the comfort of community and social support in having a social welfare state, a safety net to fall back upon in hard times.
Icelanders are used to battling the elements. There´s a level-headedness that life is hard and that this is a part of life, and you need to make the best of the hand you´ve been dealt. Icelanders believe in themselves and their ability to do just that.
Þetta reddast can feel flippant in trying times or moments of crisis; it‘s not meant to sound insensitive. It provides comfort in hoping for the best and actually believing it. We, Icelanders, are a people who know grey skies and long, dark winters, both in actuality and figuratively. From that, we‘ve developed a conviction that things will work out because they have to.
In getting through the next few months, it can´t hurt to adopt this Icelandic mentality. Things always have a way of working out in the end. Þetta reddast.