Are you happy with your country?

Last week I saw this article on the Guardian website – for those of you who don’t do links, the title is Want to be happy? Don’t live in the UK. It goes on to list various statistics which demonstrate that people in the UK and Ireland pay more tax, enjoy fewer holidays, shorter life expectancy and fewer hours sunshine than France, Spain and various other countries in Europe. 

The title of the article made me smirk and feel a little smug (I certainly see more sunshine and enjoy more holidays than I did in London), but as a couple of friends pointed out, the UK is a great place to live! Amongst other things, we (or should I say they?) have a free health service for all, great education, low crime rates, low poverty and politicians who are publicly accountable. And yet people in the UK have been subjected to a steady stream of doom and gloom for years:

Broken Britain – this imagery and tone seems to come up again and again in the British press. Of course you need to acknowledge a problem before can solve it, but are the people who continually push this message doing it for political gain and/or to sell newspapers?


This contrasts starkly with Brazil, recently dubbed the ‘Country of Optimism’.


As part of my ongoing efforts to improve my Portuguese, this week I have been slowly working my way through a really interesting article in last month’s Época magazine. They recently repeated a survey originally carried out back in 1998, asking Brazilians about their lives, circumstances and their hopes for the future.

Brazil, the country of optimism. What a contrast!

As you might guess from the picture above (it was the cover story), the research suggests that Brazilians are very optimistic. In fact there was more to it than that. The research suggests that there has been a massive jump in optimism in Brazil in the period between 1998 and 2011. Check out this graph:

That is one massive jump in morale in a little over a decade. I would love to see the results of the same survey carried out in Britain. There were similar improvements in hopes for the next generation, enthusiasm for democracy as a form of government and a reduction in crime. 

It’s too long an article for me to summarise everything, but I think there are some interesting points raised that are worth highlighting. The more recent jump in Brazilian optimism is explained (at least partially) through the continued economic growth that Brazil has enjoyed while Europe and the US have suffered. 

The article also suggests that Brazilians have been optimistic in general since the 1930s when the country was given a sense of unity through the boosting of industry and urbanisation and a feeling of nationalism was supported and spread through the radio. 

This issue around nationalism and national pride is an interesting one for me. Most Brazilians are puzzled when I tell them that an English flag has very sinister, fascistic connotations – to hang one outside your house would suggest to most people that you are a racist xenophobe. Many British people feel uncomfortable with displays of national pride and as with Brazil, this is related to our nation’s history over the last hundred years or so. 

Well I have to say, I love living in this positive atmosphere. Brazilians have a phrase, Gentileza gera gentileza (kindness generates kindness) and I think this could be expanded to include optimism: Otimismo gera otimismo! But although I live here in Brazil, ‘my country’ will always be Britain – I’m saddened and depressed by how negative things seem to be back home and I don’t think it’s just because of the economy. How do you feel about your country? 

11 replies
  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I'm not sure people are that negative are they – the press (and that includes everyone from the Daily Mail to the Gruauniad) have a vested interest in hyperbole… the rest of us just get on with life as best as we all can.

    I for one take less notice of British newspapers (broadsheet or tabloid) than i used to and remind myself that those people who comment through the online comments section are mostly totally mental.

    As for league tables of happiness – you can twist any stats with the right questions. The fact is that living standards have increased year on year in the UK for decades.

    It would seem that "we don't know we're born"

  2. Anita
    Anita says:

    Humpf, Brazilians are so quickly satisfied with a little bit of improvement. And then when I go visiting I still see a lot of street children and beggars.
    Life abroad… although I have a comfy life here, it will always be incomplete (my parents are not following closely the development of my kids, I miss some old friends, the food and the weather). Btw: my life was incomplete when I lived in Brazil too (because I still hadn't found my twin soul). "How do I feel about my country? " Well, if I just could figure out which country it is…

  3. Tom Le Mesurier
    Tom Le Mesurier says:

    @Anita, for sure Brazil is a long way from perfect. But I think it's understandable that Brazilians feel happy to have seen significant improvements in recent years. Definitely a *very* long way to go but right now it feels like Brazil has momentum and some reasons to believe the improvements will continue.

    @Anon, as you say, hyperbole sells papers and people just get on with it regardless. But I can't believe that the barrage of negativity doesn't have an effect. Also (and maybe this sounds ridiculous) I wonder how much difference the weather makes. I know it's a stereotype / generalisation, but people from cold climates do seem to be less outgoing and cheerful right? I for one always feel much happier when it's warm and sunny.

    p.s. Ha ha, I agree about people who comment on newspaper websites – totally mental! People who comment on *blogs* on the other hand, are alright by me – I won't hear a word against them! 😉

  4. Jim
    Jim says:

    I agree with Mr (or Ms) Anonymous. The press love a bad news day and thrive on doom and gloom. You almost feel they are egging on disaster sometimes just to keep themselves in business.

    I don't feel depressed and don't have a negative attitude to life (I don't think)

  5. Tom Le Mesurier
    Tom Le Mesurier says:

    Good for you Jim! I guess I'm just speaking from personal experience – I found the constant drone of negativity got a bit much after a while – not such a problem here where I can easily filter out the news by not concentrating!! But like Anita, I think a far bigger part of my improved happiness here in Brazil is that I found a special someone.

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    I'm pretty happy with my country, though I say that as a wannabe naturalized citizen. Can things be improved heaps in Brazil? Surely. Does it offer a better style of life v. the States? That's subjective but for me, yes.

    Where else can I be at the beach in 10 minutes, eat açaí every day, look at beautiful women, hear a beautiful language and be in the midst of some killer landscapes?

  7. Alex
    Alex says:

    I'm not very UNhappy here in the US, I just feel like I'm complacent and don't really belong here.

    Brazilians are optimistic people in general though compared to most "developed" nations. People here are much more doom and gloom and worry about stupid $hit that a Brazilian would probably just laugh at. Hey, less stress equals better and longer life. That's one of the reasons why I'm moving there. The main reason is though that I'm just in love with Brazilians!


  8. Tom Le Mesurier
    Tom Le Mesurier says:

    Happiness is an interesting thing isn't it? I met a guy in a small Panamanian town and the only thing he *had* to do each day was catch a couple of fish. He thought it was hilarious that people in developed countries would work all day and stress their lives away. Of course he surely has very little in the way of decent healthcare and probably not much of education, but he seemed happy and had a good life. Not saying I want that for myself, just saying that money doesn't equal happiness.

  9. The Gritty Poet
    The Gritty Poet says:

    Cool interview featured on Science Friday concerning how individuals have different emotional reactions to their surroundings, and possible reasons for this.

    In this case the focus was on how people are predisposed, or not, towards feeling empathy. Perhaps though there is something here that goes beyond and encompasses the ability of finding satisfaction in a given environment.

    Just some food for thought.

  10. Aaron Brown
    Aaron Brown says:


    Jeez, l could have spunked £2m and made so many people happy doing so.

    My glass is three-quarters full, by the way. But l do wonder if l'd be (even) happier if l did watch/read less "news". It comes to something when the 'And finally…' story on ITV's News at Ten is the only glimmer of a lighthearted happening going on in the UK in the past 24 hours.

    Be happy.



  11. Tom Le Mesurier
    Tom Le Mesurier says:

    Aaron, I would love to see you spending £2m in a frivolous manner (just clarifying your use of the word 'spunk' there for any non-UK readers).

    I'm glad you put "news" in quotes there – I was starting to worry about you, what with the Daily Mail link and then a reference to *ITV's* News at Ten – what's wrong with the BBC??


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *