Coping with history remains a key to happiness

HED: Are Czechs really happy?
DEK: A global survey says ‘yes,’ but there remains room for improvement

By Martin Jan Stránský

January 25, 2012

As President Václav Klaus himself stated in his New Year’s address, jealousy and ill-will are two typical Czech characteristics.  Former President Václav Havel coined the term “stupid mood” to describe the prevailing feelings of the populace. On the sociopolitical side, Czechs are the denizens of “beer pub socialism,” complaining over their beer(s) about the empires that rule over them, be they in Vienna, Berlin, Moscow or Brussels.

With such things seemingly inherent in the national character, one wonders if Czechs can ever be truly happy.

But if a recent study is to be believed, they already are. The polling agency Gallup surveyed 1,000 people in 155 countries.  First, they asked people, how they rated their general quality of their lives. Next, they subdivided the answers into mental (i.e. intellectual satisfaction) and physical (i.e. fatigue from work) categories, with the respondents choosing between “prospering,” “struggling,” or “suffering” to describe their feelings.

Countries were then ranked in a “satisfaction index.”  Perhaps predictably, Denmark came in first with 82 percent of people considering themselves prosperous, with 17 percent struggling and just 1 percent defining themselves as suffering. The Czech Republic finished in 40th out of 155, meaning nearly three-quarters of the countries surveyed fared worse.

Despite their traditional skepticism, 39 percent of Czechs felt that they were thriving, while 51 percent said they were struggling and just 9 percent suffering. While the results leave room for improvement, Czechs nonetheless fared better than the Spanish (43), French (44), Poles and South Koreans (tied at 56), Portuguese (70), Russians (73), Slovaks (73) and well above the poor Hungarians (103).  The Czech Republic was the highest ranked of any European post-communist countries.

So, how to improve he levels of satisfaction among Czech citizens?

First, as a general rule (though there are exceptions with Costa Rica ranking eight on the list), there is a correlation between economic prosperity and how good a country’s citizen’s feel. So continued economic development and growth has a role to play.

But there are other factors that drive happiness besides wealth. Among these is so-called “social capital,” which is the product of mutual tolerance and cooperation within a society.

Czech history is such, that the nation never had enough time to develop a true national character or to learn how to govern itself. Pinned in the heart of Europe, the country was crisscrossed by wars and invaders, forced to undergo changes to religion, and more recently, 40 years of totalitarian rule. In the past hundred years, the name of the country was changed seven times. All this forced Czechs to retreat not just to their cottages but away from trust and cooperation.

The key to countering this trend is for Czechs to be left in relative peace long enough to begin to find their own way while redeveloping role models and trust in elites again.

Another key contributor in public happiness is the “law and order” index. A high degree of corruption goes a long way in sabotaging social relations and happiness. The country’s emergence into a true democracy continues to be hampered by a dysfunctional judicial system. We have the most lawyers and judges per capita in the European Union, but also the longest waiting period before a trial. Political corruption remains pervasive. Reform to these systems will require more than the occasional protest, and is dependent on steady pressure from the public. This requires vigilance and maybe even occasional outrage, but in the end Czechs will be a whole lot happier with the outcome.

The author is a physician, publisher, and the chairman of the Healthcare Committee for Prague 1.


The Prague Post25.1.2012

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