IT’S ALL RELATIVE: Statistics on happiness don’t tell all, as each nation perceives it differently.
KLAIPEDA - How many Lithuanians happy as clams at high tide do you happen to know? Just a few, or maybe none? It wouldn’t be very surprising if we were to trust the international polls surveying Lithuanians’ comfort with their lives, i.e happiness. Whatever pollsters’ numbers you were to look at, you’d most certainly see Lithuanians floundering in despair and self-presumed misery. In local polls on the feeling, compatriots, as a rule, feel slightly better.
Though many pollsters note that the index of happiness has considerably plunged on the old continent due to the lingering economic crunch and euro troubles, nevertheless, a number of polls, like WIN-Gallup International’s, do not usually relate happiness with the bulge in one’s pocket. Not in Lithuania, where a cozy and smug life goes toe-to-toe with the ultimate feeling.
The WIN-Gallup International poll has shown Lithuania’s happiness index to be at a mere 9 percent, outstripping in that regard only Serbia (7 percent) and Romania (-10 percent) in Europe.
But Laima Bulotaite, associate psychology professor at Vilnius University, downplays the statistics, pointing out that each nation perceives happiness differently. “Thus, Americans, for example, tend to value everything at the time being. If everything is good at the time, then they feel happy. Meanwhile, Lithuanians tend to think globally,” the researcher says.
Sometimes, to better grasp compatriots’ moods, she grabs on the street a smiling passer-by and asks him or her whether he or she is happy. To her surprise, she says, many get puzzled and start thinking first what they are unhappy about.
“This just reflects how various nations and people conceive of happiness,” she says.
However, many psychologists agree that Lithuanians tend to grumble how bad their life is and how unhappy they are themselves.
“But this should not be regarded as a vice. On the contrary, grumbling helps vent anger and distress. Maybe that’s why Lithuanians, as a nation, do not blow up when in despair. While many a lot better off nations went on massive strikes and protests to bristle against the cuts, Lithuanians, probably, just once got violent, at Parliament, where some of the most belligerent and rowdy ones plucked out concrete sidewalk slabs, crushed them and hurled them at the police. This was a really rare break of social violence in Lithuania. In 99 cases out of 100, Lithuanians would grumble and fume, but that would not lead to public unrest,” says Vaidotas Markevicius, a psychologist.
Another reason for a crabby mood, he notes, is the eternal comparison with those who are better off, as a rule, dwelling in developed Western European countries.
“Interestingly, other countries that deal with more economic troubles, but sit on a higher perch of the happiness index, tend to compare their living standards with those who make ends meet in a more difficult way. Not us,” says the psychologist, concluding, “I dare to say we are very far from real unhappiness stemming from welfare and living standards, even within Europe, but we’ve long had the habit of feeling and presenting ourselves as unhappy individuals. I don’t think that will change any time soon.” Markevicius adds, “All the characteristics and even our historical background have to be taken into account.”
Meanwhile, more placating are similar “happiness polls” conducted by Lithuanians themselves.
Thus, the most recent survey, by the Politics and Public Management Institute at Kaunas Technology University, has shown that every sixth Lithuanian, or a “staggering” 16 percent of all respondents, claim to be “happy.”
In the same poll, 34.2 percent of inhabitants admitted to be neither happy, nor unhappy, 31.6 percent say they are “a little bit” happy.
Interestingly, widowers and divorcees seemed to be “the unhappiest,” and non-married single persons scored the best in the happiness ranking.
What catches the eye is that being on the considerably lower end of the scoreboard, Lithuanians avoided the very extremes, as only 3.4 percent of the respondents told the pollsters they are “absolutely happy” and only a mere 0.6 percent claimed to be “absolutely unhappy.”
Joana Bertaskiene, a spry and agile “crazy grandma,” the moniker she has been given for her outlandish TV appearances, is one of the 3.4 “happiest clams.”
“I don’t believe any polls in such a sensitive matter as happiness. Frankly, I don’t know miserable or crabby people around, as only gleeful people surround me,” she told The Baltic Times.
But pressed on the poll findings, she backed away, admitting that there must be “hordes” of unhappy compatriots somewhere.
“Probably because of lack of sunshine. The gloomy, murky weather you see most days, especially in late autumn, really gets on your nerves,” the sexagenarian said.
She shared her formula of happiness with all The Baltic Times readers: “Live as if you were living your very last day on earth. Share the joy of life with others. Don’t envy anyone. Move as much as you can. Swing by a church once in a blue moon or hug a Lithuanian oak gazing at the horizon. And remember, there’s no time to be unhappy, as life is just too short for it.”
Happy Lithuanians slightly outnumber grumpy ones. “To generalize, I can affirm that the vast majority of Lithuanians’ sense of happiness is rather average and that the number of people who consider themselves to be ‘happy’ slightly surpasses those seeing themselves as unhappy,” says Ligita Sarkute, a scholar at Kaunas Technology University.
Gender-wise, the poll revealed that, generally, males usually see the world in more shining colors than Lithuanian females, though the gap is really small.
A considerable difference in the scale could be discerned in age – the elder the Lithuanian is, the unhappier he or she is. “This could be explained by various illnesses plaguing elderly folks, as well as by the smalls pensions. Nevertheless, age and wallet size has little relevance to the feeling of happiness if the retiree lives in a large family,” Sarkute noted.
Meanwhile, 20.6 percent of all polled widowers admitted to being “very unhappy,” and 18.8 percent of all the divorcees fell into the same category.
When it comes to those happy as clams at high tide, a whopping 64 percent of individuals who have never tightened the wedding knot said that were “very happy.”
“As a matter of fact, this group of the population could be considered the most happy, on the whole. In fact, it is pretty hard to explain such a high percentage. Perhaps never-married individuals possess more free time and generally achieve more professionally, and in other fields,” the scholar noted.
Contrary to the belief that people in the countryside are more cheerful and joyful than in urban areas, the survey has not shown that. To the contrary, the scale of happiness shifted to cities and smaller towns; 62.3 percent of all the inhabitants claiming they are “happy” or “more happy than unhappy,” against the corresponding 45.6 percent in the sticks.
Whether that was a sampling error or another reason remains to be determined, but no respondent in the Taurage region answered being happy. So the industrial district in the southwest could be named the capital of Lithuania’s whimperers!
Despite the better scoring nationally, Sarkute, nevertheless, says that the statistics on Lithuanians’ happiness is considerably lower than the European average. “According to many polls, the happiest folks dwell in Denmark, where usually nine out of ten persons claim to be ‘happy.’ Also in Norway, Switzerland and Sweden. Grumpier than Lithuanians are the Bulgarians, Greeks, Romanians and Ukrainians,” inferred the pollster.
Psychotherapist Daiva Balciuniene takes a positive look at the poll results, noting that they “aren’t as bad as they could be expected.”
“Maybe Lithuanians just tend to express their dissatisfaction louder and accentuate negative things,” she says.
The psychotherapist says that most relate the feeling of happiness generally with security and good prospects for the future. “This is something global. Over many years, the formula of happiness consists of the same ‘ingredients’ – a happy family life, friends, a likeable job, money, health and a socially rewarding life – but the poll, nevertheless, is surprising in the sense that so many single people feel very happy, a new trend signifying changes in traditional family and, probably, our values as well,” said the psychotherapist.