Two days ago Norway celebrated its birthday – National day, also known as Constitution day. But everyone calls it “17 mai” because everyone knows what it stands for. Constitution of Norway was dated on 17th of May 1814 even though Norway was still under rule of Denmark. After Napoleon lost the war and Denmark as his ally had to give up on Norway, Norway still didn’t get independent but was forced into the union with Sweden. Only in 1905 Norway could claim its independence when the union was dissolved. Maybe, that is why Norwegians appreciate their independence so much, both in private and in state affairs. They have been fighting for it for quite a long time.
Lately Norway was announced the world’s happiest country, according to the report made by UNO. Wow, how did it happen? I wouldn’t call the local population the happiest of all I have seen – but these are the results of the study. I wonder, what brought Norway to the 1st place. And I also wonder why the top 5 of the happiest countries is occupied by Nordic countries: Norway, Iceland, Denmark and Finland. What is their secret? It got me thinking, and thinking hard. I am not a social scientist (though I am a proud holder of the half-done master in sociology :)), so I don’t want to start a discussion here that lacks the scientific basis – instead, I want to share my understanding based on my personal experience. Experience of happiness in Norway.
The easiest way to explain that result is by the Norwegian oil money and high income, but that would simplify the whole thing way too much. The money can explain a lot – but not everything. And while BNP per capita and levels of education and medicine service are important for the studies that proclaim Norway the best country for living, they are not enough to justify the subjective feeling of happiness. Money cannot buy happiness, but the certain amount of money is necessary like a good fundament on which a person can build a happy life. But when I think of the results of the study, I don’t compare Norway to the African countries or even my own Ukraine. I compare it to the UK, Germany or Spain (which is on 34th place). If it was oil money in a country enjoying the Mediterranean climate, the rich cultural life and the vibrant social environment – then we would not have this discussion at all. But the North is the place of harsh climate, long dark winters, short rainy summers, highly introverted culture – and these things are important for feeling happiness. So how do the Nordic people do it?
If I were 18 now I would have ADHD or concentration problems. I would switch between studying and checking my Snapchat every 15 minutes. I would have distorted image of real life. I would believe that the people on Facebook and Instagram have a lot of fun in their real life, and I don’t. I would have distorted image of myself. Well, it was already distorted, so maybe, it would not be that worse)). But my self-esteem would suffer since I would compare myself not to the glossy images on TV, but to “real” images of beauty bloggers of Youtube and those Instagram divas with styled brows, big lips and sexy limbs which they are not shy to show.
Yes, I am talking about the social media and how it changes our ways. I don’t want to make an apocalyptic analysis here, and I don’t want to draw a totally negative picture – I am just really curious about how did happen that we got addicted to sharing, and what does it do to us? I imagined how that would have shaped me when I was growing, and to be honest, I am happy that I grew up in the pre-Internet era. But today’s youth seem to cope with it somehow, and I wonder how they do it. I also wonder how people manage to keep balance in the time when it is so easy to get absorbed into all those distractions. The smartphone is called “A cigarette of modern age” – I find this metaphor aptly as I see the mobile glued to the hand of everyone like a cig was in the movies of 60s. So how do the people cope with this new addiction?
I hope, you will disagree with me and prove me wrong. Really. I am here not to drive any point home. I am just wondering: is it just me or is it true for others? So here is the thing. Is Norwegian culture lonely? Or just very independent? And where does the difference go? Sometimes extreme independence and freedom can look like loneliness (but is it so?).
To begin with, I appreciate the independence and freedom a lot. A LOT. I was born and grew up in the Ukrainian city, with the social control like in a village. Our culture was (and I guess, still is) very collective oriented. The people around you can support you, and they know you well, but it can also feel suffocating. As a kid, I knew all the neighbors in my block, and the most in my backyard. You could borrow salt, matches and money from your neighbors, and you could babysit for them for free. At the entrance to every house there were benches, occupied by the old ladies of the block. They functioned as a daylong news station. They held all the information about the neighbors, they knew who didn’t clean her house, and whose husband was drinking too much. Sometimes I wonder if they were bribed by KGB for keeping the information up to date :).
Where I grew up, it was normal to be asked by your neighbors “Why are you not married yet?” and get a dating or relationship advice. It was normal for people on the bus to start a heated discussion of politics and bring it almost to the point of fighting. It was normal for people to ask very private questions about your life. So it was a relief to come to Norway where people respect your privacy over everything, and where it is not normal to ask about your salary and which party you are going to vote for in the next election. It was like a breath of fresh air. Freedom.
Some time ago I stumbled upon blog post by a Russian make-up blogger where she was discussing natural aging and surgery methods for staying young. Her position was firm and clear. The blog had a compilation of celebrity photos: those aging naturally versus those who use plastic surgery and the botox injections, – and the former seemed to be losing the game. The author argument was like that: there are many natural processes in our body, like body hair, which we don’t accept and fight, by epilation or shaving. So natural aging is not better, and should be fought by all means. In her comments a man supported that point of view: “It is the strongest that survive. So if you can find the means to look young and beautiful – of course, you should use them!”
My reaction was strong and emotional. I had a recollection of the culture where I grew up, the culture that believes in “survival of the fittest”, and for a moment I felt thankful for living in a different reality. I was born and grew up in the city in Eastern Ukraine (Soviet Union then), with the strong Russian culture and language traditions. It was that kind of place that make (Western) Europeans gasp and wonder. Why do they do it? Why – in the country with an unreasonably low wages – do the guys have the latest versions of smartphones? Why do girls look like they just got out of manicure salon, balancing on high heels in the mess of bad pavement?
Because this is Eastern Europe, I would say. A place where you must impress, you must fake that you are richer and cooler than you are. And since people don’t have enough money to impress with houses or cars, they would impress with phones and clothes. The streets can be messy, but on every corner there would be a barber’s shop, a beauty parlor or a solarium. And nowhere else but in my city will you see a girl on high heels, with a party make-up and sexy gear, heading to her usual office job on a Monday morning.