I mean really… it is almost annoying! How come they are always happy? It’s raining cats and dogs outside and the wind tries to uproot trees – they meet, they laugh and joke. The country is deep financial crisis – they meet, they laugh and joke. There are so many things in this society in general, that could make you depressed. The repression of women and children in the family system, the ridiculous power of the the orthodox church, an education system that is so far behind, a bureaucracy that is so difficult that just for paying your monthly bills in Athens, you need to take two days off work, not to mention the huge debt and the austerity measures that slowly but surely are strangling the life out of the whole country. And still Greeks are managing to be just genuinely happy! Every day! How? Why?
Making these kind of generalizations is a very slippery slope. So I want to very clear that this is just my opinion that is based on my observations and comparisons with the people that I have met living in Estonia and Poland. There is a very real possibility that I just see happiness because I look for happiness. But I have a feeling that I have just snatched one end of a rope that has something interesting on the other end. The Greeks know something about being happy. Something more than I do. What is it?
Sure they complain. Sometimes a lot and very loud. But as soon as they are done complaining, they continue laughing. The other day my friend told me how her car got stolen – the whole story was told in such a funny way that we couldn’t stop laughing. Greeks are not afraid to laugh about themselves. They can sometimes descend into very dark humour, but they can turn everything into something amusing, if they feel like doing so.
While writing this post, I found and article that seems to support my idea. In 2013 Ekathimerini and OneEurope posted an article, which says that the Greeks are second happiest people in Europe despite the crisis. On the other side, The Press Project writes in 2014 that within a decade the Greeks fell from the happiest people in Europe, to the least happy. It’s hard to say if there even is an objective truth on this matter. Happiness is such a personal issue and statistics always show what the researchers intend them to show.
What ever the statistics say, I have observed a few things that we could all learn from Greeks, to live a happier life.
What makes Greeks happy:
1. The weather. Obviously. Sun makes everybody happier. We need the light and the warmth. And here, even in winter there are so many beautiful days when the sky is perfectly blue (or decorated with a few fluffy clouds) and the sun is shining. But that’s not all – even with a bad weather – extremely strong winds, cold rain and in many places even snow, they keep on smiling and laughing. It is like entertainment to have bad weather. Because you know that in a few days, maximum a week, the serene sunshine and calm breeze is back.
2. They don’t keep their emotions hidden. Everything comes out. The good, the bad and the ugly. If they get angry – the whole neighbourhood hears it. If they are happy, it’s the same. That means that no emotions stay stuck in the muddy waters of the subconscious. If you feel it, you show it. You let it out and then it is done, forgotten. No reason to torture yourself with unexpressed worries, anger, fear or sadness that keep on lurking at the back of your head. Throw it out and let it go.
And if they are happy to see you, you know it too. For a northerner it is something to get used to. They hug and kiss you, squeeze your shoulder and pat you on the back. They ask you how you are doing five times. It is strange and sometimes awkward for me, because the culture where I grew up, a lot of that would be viewed as rude or intrusive. So I learn. To let people hug and kiss me for a greeting and to do the same. To ask questions. To laugh and cry with them. Because it is healthy.
3.They take interest in other people’s lives. This one can be tricky though. On one hand, that means that your life is everybody’s business. Private life? What private life? There is no such thing as privacy in a Greek family. Everybody has an opinion on how you should live your life, cook your food, wash your socks and comb your hair. And they do not keep it to themselves. On the other hand it means that you will most probably not be left on your own on bad times either. Feeling depressed? Your friends will drag you out of the house, they will talk to you, cry with you, try to make you laugh, get drunk with you, if needed.
Not all is rosy on that department for sure. Depression and other mental health issues are still quite a taboo in the Greek society. Nobody will easily admit that they are depressed or go to the therapist. So there is a lot of work do be done to raise awareness that depression is not something to hide. But at least hiding is not so easy here. Everybody is so willing to discuss details of your life that maybe it helps a little.
Greek family will always be there for you. Maybe not always unconditionally – letting them help you means that you need to conform with their ideas on how you choose to live your life. But even if you do wander off the beaten track, they will still always welcome you back. Give you a good lecture, feed you until almost unconscious and laugh with you.
4.They take time to enjoy life. Greeks work hard but they never forget to take time to relax too. They can spend countless hours over coffee and a meal, talking to friends. During the workday they take moments to talk to friends, smoke a cigarette, gossip, eat, laugh, cry and what ever else they need to do. The shops and businesses close for several hours in the middle of the day and some days don’t open again on the afternoon.
From a Germanic cultural background, this is incredibly annoying. What do you mean you have a life and feelings? No! Nein! You work, so you could work, earn money and think about future, when you retire. You are not entitled to have a life today. That happens some time in the far away future. Today you are meant to labour through your endless grey days and if you need a pee-break, that has to be exactly 2 minutes 54 seconds. Back to work now. Quickly. Do not smile to the customer unless you are told to. Do not even remember that you have family or friends. When you work, you are a machine…
Greeks do not subscribe to that idea. They allow themselves to be human. There is time for everything and what does not happen today, will probably happen tomorrow… or the day after. But things will get done eventually. Of course enjoying today without too much worries about tomorrow is part of the problem, why the country is in such deep crisis today. But if you can combine the relaxed attitude with some discipline, you might just have a recipe how to have a life today and tomorrow too. Many Greeks who have moved abroad, have adopted a different work ethics but still kept their relaxed attitude and they are thriving in life.
Back in 2008 I visited Corfu and returning from there I had to take a bus, to make it to the airport in time. Counting on the fact that the local buses are on time (big mistake) and everything happens as it is supposed to, I ended up being very late in the bus station. The bus to Athens was full and about to depart in 10 minutes. Breathlessly I explained to the man in the ticket office that I absolutely NEED to take this bus, or I will miss my plane. He lit a cigarette, said “wait” and left. Came back, said nothing. I asked, what is going on, can he make it happen that I get on that bus? “Wait” he replied from a cloud of blue cigarette smoke. 10 longest minutes of my life passed while I was pacing back-and-fourth like a caged tiger, wishing that I had not quit smoking may years ago. The guy in the ticket office was leaving his cubicle every now and then, ignoring my pleading glances and replying nothing. The bus did not leave on schedule, which only prolonged my agony. And just as I was about to chew off my suitcase handle, the guy came to me, lit another cigarette and told the magic words – yes, you can take the bus!
Everything finally gets done. In it’s own strange way and pace.
Greeks take time at work and they take even more time on leisure time. A 5-hour lunch that turns into dinner? No problem. Late breakfast that turns into brunch that is followed by having coffee in the next café? Sure! Two-hour phone call? Any time. They spend so much time just enjoying the company of other people that it makes a proper Finno-ugric person wanna scream, run and hide. But of course I do nothing of the sort. Because as a proper Finno-ugric, I do not show emotions.
5. They talk. All the time. Loudly. With hands. Whether happy or sad, joyous or angry – all the talking is so incredibly loud. I mean really – the decibels that come out of a Greek yiayia just when she is calling the grandkids for a meal, are deafening. The kids on the playground yell just out of the pure enjoyment of the game. The mothers yell, the fathers yell, the neighbours yell. And that is constantly accompanied by gestures. Mostly with hands but also with the head or other body parts… depending on the conversation.
What have the decibels in common with happiness?
It is less about the decibels and more about self-expression. All the negative energy that could be trapped inside and slowly poison everybody are released by the extra decibels and energetic hand movements.
They also swear a lot! My language skills are not yet good enough to catch all that. But apparently the vocabulary of elaborate and very adult expressions is huge in variety. While I would not suggest that everybody should start swearing – there is a certain release and enjoyment of uttering some juicy swearwords at the right moment and place. It helps you steam off move on. And if you need inspiration, how to use swearwords in English (and how to care less about unimportant stuff in life), read this.
A very good point that I probably would not have found on my own, is that
6. their God, his son, the sons’ mother and an extensive network of male and female Saints, that seem to help on demand, are very much still an important presence in many Greeks’ lives. While it may just be a beautiful fairy tale combined with a network of money hungry religious leaders, it does provide relief for a lot of people. It means that if something good happens, the “Great father figure” is rewarding you. And when something bad happens, he will either take care of it or it is part of His big master plan and surely there is a reason why he decided to send that misfortune. It is a coping mechanism. Whether healthy or not, it works. Just as prayer helps even those, who are not religious – it changes the mindset.