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The Secret To Happiness Is Not A Secret

There's something I just can't seem to get over; that Romanians are the most unhappy people on earth. I know it's just a stupid survey, but nevertheless, this country came out with negative points and 'beat' out places like Afghanistan where more respondents considered themselves 'happy' rather than 'unhappy'. The term is pretty subjective, and there are plenty of reasons for unhappiness, life isn't fair after all. Still, we don't live in a place that's ever known suicide attacks, cave-dwelling, and successive foreign invasions over the past fifty years. So although we're safe, that doesn't seem to matter much. Alright, the GDP could also be better, but again, compared to Afghanistan we can light our cigars with dollar bills. Right, so what is it?

The survey indicates that "status and not money buys  happiness". This would explain a lot. Here are a couple of examples.

A friend told me about a former work colleague of his who, despite being bored at his current job, didn't want to leave because he wouldn't have a manager's position elsewhere. I understand that a retail manager at Target wouldn't want move to a greeter's position at Walmart, but in software development, going from team lead to senior developer is nothing more than a title -and has nothing to do with work satisfaction.

In another case, a guy turned down an executive management position at one company in favour of a more engaging (but still senior) role elsewhere. His family thought he was crazy, "What?! You don't want to be the boss?!?!" This goes hand in hand with the pervasive mentality that anybody who's a company owner in Romania must be loaded and living it up at the expense of the backbreaking work that their minions endure. Hence, if you're not the boss you must be the minion.

So we're back to mentality, as always. Fear of failure, fear of responsibility, fear of trying, and many other irrational fears that hold us back, not only from becoming better people, but from being happy!

There is more. This past weekend I saw two films, different but both touching in their own way. The first was The Human Experience, a documentary about two brothers who explore the lives of people with huge disadvantages in their life. They experience living homeless on the streets of New York for a week, they travel to Peru and help at a center for disabled orphans, and they meet lepers in Ghana. All the people they meet tell them that they're happy simply because they're alive. The other is the oddly named, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, about British retirees who move to this rundown Indian hotel for their twilight years. There was one scene where this whole happiness thing was made crystal clear.

One of the characters, a snobby and class conscious former civil servant infatuated with the former high-court judge, asks him in disbelief, "How can you stand this country, what do you see in it that I don't?" The answer he provides is as beautiful as it is simple, "The way the people see life as a gift, a privilege — and not a right." That explains everything!

Regardless what one may think of the survey, the fact remains that out of the two thousand respondents (a thousand per country) Romanians considered themselves more unhappy than people in war-torn Afghanistan. While I agree that perceived social status and economic conditions play a part in our so-called happiness, the comparison between these two countries actually points to something much deeper; Gratitude.

I'd be willing to bet that the happiness rankings in the survey would remain virtually unchanged if, instead of "Do you consider yourself happy?", the question had been "Are you grateful to be alive?". People who answer yes, are happier people. They wake up in the morning and they've already got a +1. Gratitude is shown time and again to be directly linked to our state of happiness (just check google). But in Romania, gratitude is a thought-crime. In Romania, we have no faith in ourselves, let alone in our fellow citizens, so in turn we have no hope, and therefore there's nothing left to be grateful for.

I blame communism for instilling this pervasive sense of fear of everything and for institutionalizing initiative and creativity, but I'm hopeful that someday this fear will be replaced by audacity. When that happens, people won't vote for governments based on handouts but on competence and an ability to lead. I'm grateful that even though I may not be around to see it, it will happen because at some point being smart and determined will be worth much more than being ignorant and numerous. I'm grateful that regardless what anybody else does, I can choose to improve continuously, to learn something new every day, and to be the change I want to see around me. So if they ever come to ask me, I'd say I'm happy because I'm grateful for my life and for all the experiences that come along with it. You should feel the same way, no matter where you live.

As a certain saying goes, "Everything will be alright in the end, and if it's not alright, it's not yet the end".

It's up to you


  1. You have to go way back into the twilight of the Romanian history to understand the “institutionalized citizen” effect widely spread within the contemporary society. It’s about fear, uncertainty, mistrust, political and economic pressure, bad economics and an ever-present feeling of inferiority.

    It did not start neither it has ended with the communist regime. What the communists did – and they knew diabolically very well the “push button” sequence – was the implementation of the welfare state. They did it very well hence the nostalgia the older generation display towards the “good old days” that ended in the early 90s. It was a trade: they took away any resemblance of dynamism, creativity, individualism and entrepreneurship. Moral and ethics concepts were twisted and tainted forever. The older generation is the very product of that national policy.

    Of course the Romanians are unhappy. How could they be happy if only by being a crook one can succeed and jump up on the social hierarchy? How could they be happy if they truly believe that being a trade person equals second class social status and permanent intellectual underachievement anathema? It sounds stupid but that’s the reality there. Vocation? What the hell is that? Doing the job you enjoy and love is sheer naivety and it has nothing to do with “heavy weighted and respectable” professions although 99% of them hate their jobs. Of course you hate waking up in the morning and driving to the hospital and act being a doctor. Because you are not a doctor, you act as a doctor, lawyer, manager, whatever. You don’t believe in what you do. You believe in the social status, recognition, infatuation and power display. Oh yeah, and money. The more the better, it’s never enough.

    As I aforementioned this contemporary paradigm goes deep down into the history of this nation. Unfortunately is not even a nation, it had too little time to forge itself into a nation. Periodically, throughout the history things kept changing, new rulers took over, new guidelines were implemented, new empires claimed parts or the whole territory and invariably the populace got royally screwed up. What’s the point of accumulating wealth if tomorrow’s ruler could take everything away from you? As a bonus you could end up in jail or to make matters simpler you could get shot. You live with as little as possible, you’re always on the run, you inherently distrust the law and any representation of the law makers (the recent events linked to the constitutional court are relevant) you lie, you cheat, you bend, you betray and generally speaking you behave like an asshole. What in other societies is perceived as asshole behavior in Romanian society is seen as being “adaptable and flexible (ma descurc! – I fucking hate this expression).

    You know what? I better stop right here and right now: don’t want to ruin my day.

    1. In principle, you're pretty much on the money with every point you make, but I have to say that what it amounts to is an excuse (or a number of them). This country's still in the process of finding itself, that's for sure. Only yesterday a cab driver told me we should do what Yugoslavia did and break away from Bucharest. I think it's easy to go into wild details and take off on all kinds of philosophical and historical tangents about where the root of our problems lie and who's responsible and so on.

      But they are nothing but excuses. In the present - now, today - you and me have to make a decision. We can choose to be honest, we can choose to be kind, to be generous, and to believe in the potential of this country. We can choose to be grateful for our life and that we are free to do with it as we wish. We can choose to lead by example. And that's a good start on the road to happiness.

    2. I don’t know the pulse in Cluj however I have quite a few contacts in Tg-Mures, Sighisoara, Sibiu, Deva, Hunedoara, Satu Mare, etc. More and more people are seriously considering the break away from the former state and the emergence of the independent Transylvania. Of course, each group & individual you discuss the matter with may have various arguments, reasons and aspirations. The Hungarian ethnics should be seen some sort of Quebecoise if you like, very found and eager to exercise their ethnic rights and privileges. I understand and I respect that.

      However one pattern was consistent throughout the discussions no matter I spoke with Romanians, Hungarians or to some remnants of the Saxon population: they had had enough of “southern behavior”. In other words whatever comes from Bucharest is perceived with deep suspicion, mistrust and more often anger.

      I wonder if 2014 is close enough as estimation for regional referendum in respect to the breakaway issue. It looks like it’s cooking and boiling and it is only a matter of time the steam will erupt.

      We’ll live and we’ll see however: I’m personally sick and tired of southern politics and behaviors. Do I support and endorse an independent Transylvanian State? Oh yeah baby! Big time!

    3. It's very interesting to hear this, but not at all surprising. Cluj is much more often promoted as "The Heart of Transylvania" than 'The Jewel of Romania'. And many people do say that Ardeal is another country when coming from Bucuresti.

      But I'm not at all a fan of Balkanization. While I agree that 'southern behaviour' plays a part in what's holding this country back politically, it's no reason to break the country apart. In Germany they have Bavarians, Swabbians, other groups that cling to their historical identity, but look how well they're doing together.

      I guess what we got going on here is somewhat similar to Catalans in Spain, but it's more petty grumbling than legitimate concerns when juxtaposed with the enormity of a breakup. Let's not forget, the former mayor of Cluj is no southerner, it's his 'Romanian behaviour' that landed him in jail.

  2. Both are right ... But question is what are we going to do about it ?
    The truth is "one person can make a difference" is untrue ..."It starts with you" ...but usually ends at you. You can practice, preech and teach but if the listening and the watching are unwilling to do as you do and pass it onto the next one it leads no where. It has to be like a disease ... You need to drill it into peoples heads that to feel better you must do better and they must act on it not just do one good thing then brush it off and go back to their norm. The truth is politics corrupts all. No matter how good hearted someone is once they are in a state of power they are manipulated by means we do not know ...(Most are with money) but its human nature to want more and to be selfish. As some have said it basically has to be a re-revolution to get rid of the large bullshit that is plaguing that country . Hopefully someone can lead it onto a path of righiousness and have the people follow quick enough that the corruption does not affect it as much as it does now . The only true way it will change in our life time is if the country as a whole believes in itself. Use what you have and use it to its fullest.Build a reputation as being good at something other than exporting gypsies. All most of the world knows about romania is gypsies. Most romanians I know are hard working and intelligent. But sadly most of the hard working and intelligent ones have moved abroad due to the fact that the "system" is all fucked up back home. People have lost their ability to care and to do any more good for anoyone other than themselves. They have adapted to the american mentality much too fast "lie cheat steal and be happy".
    It starts with basics ... Build a fucking highway already ... Its a joke ... We have no highway that crosses our country ... Stop wasting money on stupid shit... Build a cross coutry highway let people enjoy their own country and then tourists will flock to see the true beauty of the romania.

    1. Amen!

      I only hope that, as more and more people become 'infected', the more it will affect the well being of the entire country.

  3. I'm going to open a can of worms here and mention that "Orthodoxy" is a common factor to the low-rating countries on said survey: "te bate Dumnezeu" "vei arde in iad" 1000 de matanii pe zi, post sever jumate din an, "nevrednicul" "pacatosul" etc etc. Are all these things bad?, no (the first 2 certainly are!) but when you devoid them of God's love, or put His Justice first they will make anyone bitter and fearful, and that's what Romanians are!

    On the other hand, I second the motion of breaking from Bucharest :)

    1. Yeah I considered that can of worms myself. I felt I would end up on a tangent I wouldn't be able to get out of. That being said, it plays a huge part too, I'm sure of it...only that it likely affects the older generation more than the current (hopefully).

  4. Well, let’s fantasize for a second and reveal an approach to the issues discussed within Matt’s article which might, just might be seen a solution.

    We spoke about the generation gap in terms of adaptability and transition to democratic principles and rules. Obviously the older generation can’t take it and pretty much we understand why – not too much to do about that I’m afraid except to let the time machine to inexorably crunch away.

    In plain English, most of them will pass away soon due to unhealthy food diet (they don’t have money to buy decent food) inadequate health services (oh boy that’s a Pandora’s box let’s not get there) lack of properly heated households (natural gas, electric power and other utilities are getting more and more costly) and so on. In other words the old people are as good as dead: I’m really sorry to say it, I have old relatives and I try to help them as much as I can but that’s the grim reality there.

    Perhaps in a decade from over 5 million retired citizens Romania will end up more likely with 3 million plus. Perhaps less. What about the others? The younger generation? The middle aged one that’s theoretically fully developed in terms of skills, knowledge and willingness to change things around them? Oh yes, indeed, positive change they bring to themselves mostly in detriment of the others.

    Do we have to mention the lack of civic spirit, community ethics, and the good old and plain common sense? No, we don’t because it would be pointless. It’s not there and it will never be if the society keeps steering on its already chosen course of action. It stinks too bad.

    What’s the populous segmentation over there? About 5 million retirees (they highjack the general election vote and distort the outcome based on their own personal needs). About 3-4 million working people, both lower and middle class: this segment is the only one generating most of the national revenue. About 3 million people working abroad for a living both legally and illegally. A part of their revenue is sent home to support their families. I don’t think we have more than 6 million people generating revenue FOR Romania as opposed to a total population of 18 million. That’s a one to three ration. It will never work guys. It is impossible for one person to sustain 3 people, it just bad arithmetic.

    Because it’s already Saturday (early morning) I think I’m allowed to fantasize in my weekend, I would say. So here’s the thing. Take the 4 million people in Romania, the segment that generates income and forcibly relocate them all over Europe, preferably in northern frozen environments. The cold does wonders straightening up human behaviors. Otherwise you freeze up, it’s that simple. Make sure the 4 million Romanian are working and interacting at least 5 years within whatever community they were relocated to. Force them to learn a new language.

    Force them to use the new language. Force them to unclog their sclerotic brain and teach them to adapt to normal societies. After 5 years bring them back to Romania and give them 5 years to fire up their gig: they’ll do wonders, 10 years from now one wouldn’t find any resemblance to the current country.

    The old folks stuck in Romania? Give them coupons with everything they need, and let them fade away with dignity. They will never understand what’s going on. What about the “floating” populous segment, you know, those JD was referring to? The segment that never works, steals, robs, disrupt society and generally are a huge drag to the country’s internal affairs? Well? I don’t know. I mean I do know however you don’t want to know what I thing about this issue. It’s that bad I’m afraid.

    Okay, fair enough, I completed my early morning fantasy and it’s time to go fishing on the Great Slave Lake. Apparently the weather is okay and soon we’ll have snow coming upon us, I better enjoy the last weekend of arctic summer.

    Enjoy your weekend guys and let’s keep in touch.

    1. I'm with you all the way on this, Rares! It's a good solution, only to that I would add to that an even more ambitious project; send all youth away for 10 years and to have them come back when they're done college/university elsewhere and ready to work.

    2. Not any teen wants to go to university Matt. Some of them simply can’t help it. You know, the motherboard is equipped with slow processors and the RAM is not enough. And if they blink their eyes in a hurry then one can assume there is also a problem with the video card. That’s as good as it gets, period. Some people are able to go and finish a college and a university others are not for whatever reason. It doesn’t mean they are dumb: they are simply good for something else.

      Teach and train them to do a decent job: electricians, plumbers, carpenters, and mechanics, whatever. What’s wrong with that? You lived in Canada; you know what I’m talking about. Trade people, well certified and good at their jobs are making very good money. It takes less time, less money and less effort to get a tradesman fully certified. And Romania NEEDS trade people, good trade people.

    3. I mentioned this in my "Supreme Leader" post. Colleges and apprenticeship programs in Canada do a great job of steering those uninterested in University education towards good trades jobs. A big part of the living overseas project isn't just in the practical/theoretical education but the attitude towards work/the job...that it's noble and that it's worth it and you can be a professional even if you're not wearing a suit.

  5. Matt, nice post again, real interesting too...but somehow the more i read the more i got pissed off by the comments! Why? Well, let's start with the fact that braking up Romania into pieces is so promoted.
    Just because we have assholes in the Parliament? Just because all politicians are idiots? Just because we don't like people from Bucharest? Come on man...there are better ways than that, braking up the country IS NOT a solution!!!
    Back in the history people gave their lives to see this nation live as one, to form this country. And what do we do? We brake it up? Sorry for saying this but if we think like that, then we are "FULL OF SHIT"!!!
    Why is it that in other countries people are being listened to, and respected when they go on the streets and protest? It's very simple: "people know they have the power to make a change and they exercise that power". I personally believe that with the proper way of educating and informing people of their rights we can succeed in making a change. Actually, i'm damn sure of that.

    1. This is not about breaking up Romania, Edy but rather about the failed civil society. One of the solutions taken into account is the administrative and territorial partition. I agree, it sounds terrible because it is so easy to brush aside the national state our forbearers have managed to achieve through sweat and blood: lots of blood, not a pretty history after all.

      We have to deal with Romanian nowadays realities which are grim. There is hardly political leadership, the country has been robbed and raped for the last two decades and most of the aged population is way under the poverty line. Indeed, you’ve got what they call the Zombie populous. It’s hardly their fault.

      Almost half of the active populous, the most educated, skilled and intelligent segment is working and living abroad, all over Europe. Apparently there is no place for them in Romania. For the last two decades it is estimated that over 3 million people have left Romania for good: most of them have acquired foreign citizenships and they are very unlikely to ever return to Romania. Also according to various statistics the vast majority of those 3 million “lost” people were highly trained professionals. Does that ring a bell?

      Don’t get me wrong Edy. It’s perfectly okay for people to live the native country for a foreign country if that’s the place where they desire to live and work. Great Britain has a long tradition is this respect and no Briton in his right mind would ever accuse them of brain drainage.

      Unfortunately Romania’s case is different: the country needed those people for the last two decade to jumpstart the economy and to reduce the discrepancies between the East and the West. It never happened.

      I think the country will ultimately follow its natural course and a solution to the partition issue will present itself whenever the fruit is ripe: it will either die off as an anomaly or it will go ahead as the only solution available. Think of Quebec: back in the early 80’s it was very close to separation. It was about their francophone identity, culture and representation. Eventually cooler heads have prevailed based on the economic argument and nowadays hardly any decent Quebecoise would ever talk about the separation issue.

      In Romania we have the opposite situation: it is the economics and the survival of populace rather than national and cultural identity. We’ll live and we’ll see. However I would suggest to carefully balancing the pros and cons of the issue before you get pissed off.

    2. Edy, I think the idea of separation is simply a result of the frustration one might feel looking at what goes on in the capital. Any clear analysis along with weighing pros and cons wouldn't hold much weight.


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