Happiness and Croats

0 834


The World Happiness Index was just recently published. And the winner is Norway! Yes, Norway is the happiest place on earth, beating Denmark for the first time. And where are my two respective homelands? The US is 14th and Croatia is… 77th? We’re wedged between Jamaica and… Kosovo?

Now, I’m trying to imagine if Croatia’s ranking will even make most Croatians blink. After all it’s no secret that skepticism is kind of the norm around here. As an American I’m not shocked that we’re 14th, I actually expected it to be lower. Wait? Does that mean I’ve become more Croatian? But seriously, Croatia ranks below Moldova, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan (all countries I’m very happy I don’t live in). Are Croatians really that unhappy?

Response Bias

I think the is answer is no, we or they’re not (I’m so confused). I’m going to ascribe Croatia’s ranking to ‘response bias.’ One of the main components of the survey is to ask a thousand respondents in each country where they would place themselves on a scale from 1 to 10 in which 10 represents the best life possible and 1 the worse. Now imagine someone asking my or your punica this question, there is very little chance, no matter how good she actually felt about things the moment the question was asked that my or your mother-in-law could answer this question with great positive affirmation. The question itself would create a negative response. That is respond bias.


In Croatia, at least in my experience, stating obvious truths that may seem braggadocios are frowned upon. Last week I was trying to help my students write their CV’s in English and I encountered this cultural trait. I asked my students to write down anything that could showcase their dedication, commitment, leadership, and or experience doing well, anything. Thinking that future employers would want to see these traits in their future employees, especially when those employees may have limited working experience. I was greeted with a classroom of blank stares and chirping crickets.

After some prodding I found out that I have students who have won volley ball championships, folk dancing championships, have played active roles in various organisations and clubs, traveled extensively and currently write for the student newspaper, produce or broadcast content on Radio Student, and do the same for Student TV. But getting them to tell me this with something other than dismissive indifference took effort.

An Empty Pride

I’m not saying Croatian’s aren’t proud. You guys are, but this pride is less personal and more national, and is usually constrained to the greatness of the country’s cuisine, athletes, and of course, the sea, and… um Split. Meanwhile, in the US we are raised to be braggarts. Look at our current president. That guy is like an orange brag, wrapped in a golden boast, signifying nothing. Has he ever done anything that wasn’t ‘great’ or ‘tremendous?’ Yes, he has, but he won’t ever tell you about it. Trump’s self-promotion is simply a symptom of a greater American cultural phenomenon.

So, it’s nice to be in a place where people are more modest. This is part of Croatia’s charm. I was never told to have great expectations about living here, and the people, the culture, the way of life have all irrevocably altered my life for the better. That’s why I’m happy living here, I’d just like more Croatians to feel the same.