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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA

The Way It Is

What Makes Russians Happy?
The market research agency Masmi Russia found out what it takes for Russians to attain complete happiness
Frank Ebbecke

What makes you happy? (percentage of total number of respondents, no more than three answers)

In July, Masmi Russia, a respected market research company, conducted a poll among 35,565 representative respondents across this vast country. Their simple, straightforward key question was: “What makes Russians happy?” The simple, straightforward answer was: “Money”. Shocking? Surprising? Amusing? Not really. This is what everybody thinks everywhere, the difference is that bearing in mind the Soviet past, all this is very new in Russia.

Almost half of the men, to be precise 47%, are apparently most happy with their lives when there is loads of money around. Forty per cent of women totally agree with the poll. Did they ever realize that money has the bad habit of disappearing quicker than it comes? There is a common attitude here to spend rather than save. With money one can simply buy everything. They reckon.

Russians just love the newest electronic gadgets, the latest fashion, fancy cars, exotic travels, glitz & glitter. Stylish brands to show off. Whatever it costs. At least this is true in Moscow, the hub of the nation. “Shop till you drop”. All you need is money. Of course. Money is said to be the name of the happiness game. And if it’s not enough? Easy. Borrow some. Even high interest rates do not seem to deter people applying for them, although the rate of personal borrowing is far behind that of the West. People borrow from their friends here, simpler than from a bank. Why save? Who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow, better spend whilst you still can.

Russians have swallowed the dangerous disease of consumerism as speedily as plunging down a shot of vodka.

Why are such attitudes so prevalent? Over more than half a century during the Soviet Union, accumulating big money made little sense. It wasn’t as if there was an awful lot to buy. But that has changed. Dramatically. In Russia today you can buy just about everything from just about everywhere. Russians have swallowed the dangerous disease of consumerism as speedily as plunging down a shot of vodka.

Look West. It’s better there. Today, 70% of Americans living in the US are said to be unhappy with the performance of their elected officials. Growing unemployment. Growing debts. No money. Materialism can prove to be a toxic poison for happiness. Let’s not forget the somewhat frightening financial disaster scenario in good old Europe: pray for Greece, Portugal, Spain and now Italy. Who’s next? If countries like these, including the USA, were private companies they would have been put out of business long ago. One crisis follows another, faster and faster. Who still has enough money nowadays? Maybe Russians. Well, some of them.

What else do the research results tell us about happiness? What about concepts like “stability”, “confidence in the future” or “knowledge”? These highly desirable qualities of life scored much lower in the ratings. These are perhaps the only thing that money cannot buy, or at least money alone cannot buy.

Why not just take it easy with Lev Tolstoy: “If you want to be happy, be happy”. Some have already understood: after all, 10% of the men and 8% of the women interviewed claimed “I’m happy, I have everything”.

What about “love?” Only 25% of men and 29% women think that is important. Just a quick note on this. The average length that people stay married is just two years until the first divorce on average in Moscow. Drinking problems are attributed as being the most common reason (45%), and money problems (17%).

The lowest happiness-rating criterion goes to “friends”, who notch up only 6%. I beg your pardon? This is a country in which for well over half a century everybody was taught to be everybody’s friend. The second last criterion for becoming happy is “communication with loved ones” (7% of men & 10% of women). How can this be, when we live in a country where everybody tells you that family ties are the highest form of human communication!

Happiness. Happiness is a quite fuzzy concept. There are roughly seven billion people fighting daily for a human, decent way to live on this planet. And they experience as many billion reasons to feel happy. Or rather unhappy. Happiness can mean billions of things to billions of people. Like a cup of clean water. Like a handful of food which makes millions of people happy these days in certain regions of East Africa. On the other hand a majority of people in classic capitalist strongholds like the US and Germany claim that a professional career makes them most happy. One reason for this is that career growth usually means an increasing disposable income, which can be used for self-realisation, a second is that career growth brings self-realisation in itself, in many cases.

Here, in Russia, the general rule seems to be making money for the sake of money. Whatever it takes. Often with selfish greediness and social irresponsibility. Where does that lead to? Not that far on the bumpy road to becoming happy. Happiness, sociologists say, is simply a mental state of well-being. Whereas in Russia, happiness seems to be the physical state of a full pocket.

Obviously money alone is not enough. American psychologist Martin Seligman provides the acronym PERMA to summarize his findings. People seem to be happiest when they have Pleasure (tasty food, a beautiful sunset, the smell of flowers) “Engagement” (the absorption of an enjoyed yet challenging activity), “Relationships” (social ties—an extremely reliable indicator of happiness), “Meaning” (a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger), “Accomplishments” (having realized tangible goals).

A quote from the wealth of Russian historical (at times hysterical) sayings and beliefs: “A Russian (in particular a woman) is only happy when unhappy.” Well, then everything sounds pretty much OK. Because who has enough money in this quickly changing society, other than a famous few? If money is what makes roughly half of the Russian population really happy, then this half of the nation must be sadly unhappy, which should make them happy, shouldn’t it?

Sounds confusing? It is. Like so many things. Never even try to understand. Why not just take it easy with Lev Tolstoy: “If you want to be happy, be happy.” Some have already understood: after all, 10% of the men and 8% of the women interviewed claimed “I’m happy, I have everything.”

Allow me one concluding comment, as Russians just love music and singing. And now all together: “Don’t worry, be happy”. This 1988 worldwide #1 hit by New York-born Bobby McFerrin made everybody everywhere pick happiness over worrying. In fact, these famous words originally were the last words of Indian Guru Meher Baba. Back on July 10, 1925, he took a vow of silence. He did, indeed, stick to this vow until he died 44 years later, only communicating in writing or by hand signs with the rest of the world. However, it has been never reported whether his very individual lifestyle made him really happy.

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