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Italians look cheerful – so why do they claim to be unhappy?

Italy might be famous for 'la dolce vita', but life is not so sunny for the people who live here.

Italians look cheerful - so why do they claim to be unhappy?
Italy came 50th in the latest World Happiness survey. Photo: Chiara Vitellozzi Fotografie

There’s no escaping the convivial atmosphere in most Italian coffee bars each morning, where, if you’re a regular, the barista knows your order or if you’re short on cash you can pay the next day.

In what many Italians see as the last bastion of human interaction that cannot be overshadowed by social media, people greet each other with a cheery buongiorno and enjoy a quick catch-up over their coffee and cornetto.

Such an atmosphere leaves the impression that Italians must be the happiest people in the world.

But despite their welcoming and sunny disposition, Italians are, in fact, among the least happy in Europe, according to the World Happiness Report Update 2016, which was released in Rome on Wednesday.

Italy came 50th – five places lower than in the 2013 ranking, with Italians trailing behind their counterparts in Germany, the UK and France when it comes to happiness levels.

Beyond Europe, even people in Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s worst human rights offenders, are happier than Italians. The country ranked 34th.  

The survey, which ranked 156 countries, was based on a combination of self-declared happiness factors, including health, family, social support, job security, freedom to make life choices and freedom from political oppression and corruption.

So it would seem that living in a beautiful country with an abundance of sunshine, good food and rich history does nothing to take the edge off the problems Italians encounter in their daily lives.

“Italian people are cheerful on the surface,” Marco Lauriola, a psychology professor at Rome’s Sapienza University, told The Local.

“But the reality is different; happiness is not just composed of social interactions, and what you see on the streets is very superficial – it’s just a cultural way of being with people who you don’t know very well.”

The sluggish Italian economy, which is only just starting to emerge from its longest recession since the Second World War, has also hit Italians’ wellbeing hard over the last decade or so.

Cases of depression rose between 2005 and 2013, according to figures from Istat, the national statistics agency, with the illness affecting 2.6 million people as of July 2014.

Meanwhile, the job situation is still precarious, despite the unemployment rate falling to 11.9 percent in 2015 from 12.7 in 2014 – the first annual drop since 2007.

Some people have been jobless for years, with little to occupy their days and little hope for the future.

“So long as people cannot see a hopeful future, it hinders their level of happiness,” Lauriola said.

And despite their demeanour in public, Italians are, on average, quite “individualistic”, he added.

“What is important to some Italians' wellbeing is their health and that of their family, and the financial resources ‘for me and my family’ – not others. Although there are many altruistic people, there is a measure of distrust in the public.”

Maurizio, a bar owner in central Rome, agrees that the country’s economic woes – especially since it joined the euro – are at the root of Italians' disgruntlement.

But he also touched upon the distrust people have – not only for their politicians, but also for each other.

In fact, almost 80 percent of Italians said their fellow countrymen and women were not to be trusted in a survey carried out by Istat in 2013. The survey also showed the level of distrust had crept up during the recession years.

“We do have happy natures and a good character, and are cheerful in the street…but we have our issues,” said Maurizio.

“One of them is our frustration with people who constantly break the rules – people have no respect – but this is also because they see the people who make those rules doing exactly the same thing.”

Celine, a 26-year-old restaurant worker, also lamented the high taxes Italians pay, for little in return.

“There are no jobs, the services are poor, the infrastructure is bad. I’m lucky to be working but many feel hopeless – we earn, we pay tax, but we don’t get anything back.”

Denmark regained the top spot in the happiness ranking after slipping to number three in the previous edition.

But what makes people in the chilly Nordic nation so upbeat compared to the Italians?

“One thing that definitely plays a role is the nation’s welfare system, which helps to eliminate, or at least minimize, many of the concerns people have elsewhere,” Justin Cremer, the editor of The Local Denmark, said.

“There is also a strong argument to be made that Danes simply have lower expectations, which can sound like an insult but really isn’t. Danes seem to appreciate what they have instead of always striving for more and can find a lot of happiness in something as simple as enjoying the return of the sun after a long stretch of grey days.” 

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DENMARK

Today in Denmark: A round-up of the latest news on Monday

Find out what's going on in Denmark today with The Local's short roundup of the news in less than five minutes.

Today in Denmark: A round-up of the latest news on Monday
Sunny weather is expected all week this week. Photo: Niclas Jessen/Visit Denmark

Denmark’s former PM names new party Moderaterne 

Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Denmark’s former prime minister, announced on Saturday that his new centre party would be called Moderaterne, the same name as the leading centre-right party in Sweden. 

In a speech held to mark Denmark’s Constitution Day on Saturday, Rasmussen said the new party would attempt to unite Danes with a variety of different backgrounds and political viewpoints. 

“Some prefer mackerel, and others prefer salmon. Some have long Danish pedigrees, others have only recently chosen to live in Denmark,” he said.

What they all have in common, he said, is their love for Denmark, which is “among the best countries in the world”. 

“How do we drive it forward? We are trying to find an answer to that. How do we pass it on to our children in better condition than we received it?” 

Rasmussen said the party would not launch fully until after November’s local elections, but was ready to contest a parliamentary election if the ruling Social Democrats decided to call an early vote, something he said he did not expect to happen. 

Sweden’s state epidemiologist warns Swedes to be careful in “high-infection” Denmark 

After the per capita number of new coronavirus infections in Denmark in recent days overtaking that of Sweden, Sweden’s state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has advised Swedes visiting their Nordic neighbour to be careful to maintain social distancing. 

“You need to keep [the infection rate] in mind if you go there, so that you really take with you the advice you have in Sweden to keep your distance, not stay with lots of other people, and not have the close contact that involves a risk,” he told the Expressen newspaper. 

He said Denmark’s higher infection rate was an obvious consequence of the country’s more rapid lifting of restrictions. 

“They chose to open up society relatively quickly even though they knew that there was a certain risk that the spread of infection would increase,” he said. “Because they had vaccinated the elderly and did not see that it would be that dangerous with a certain increased spread of infection.” 

Nils Strandberg Pedersen, former director for Denmark’s SSI infectious diseases agency called Tegnell’s comments “comical”. 

“It’s comical. It’s Swedish spin,” he told the BT tabloid. “Denmark has registered more infections because we test so much more than the Swedes. It’s not the same as having more people infected in the population.” 

More immigrants to Denmark are getting an education 

The education gap between first and second-generation immigrants to Denmark and people of Danish origin has fallen over the last decade, according to a story published in Politiken based on new figures from Denmark’s immigration ministry. 

An impressive 72 percent of 20 to 24-year-old first and second-generation female immigrants now completing further education of university education, compared to 58 percent in 2010.

Denmark records further 853 cases of coronavirus 

A further 853 people were diagnosed with coronavirus in the 24 hours running up to 2pm on Sunday, a rise on Saturday when 592 cases were detected, but still within the range of 600 to 1350 a day within which Denmark has been fluctuating since the start of May. 

Thorkild Sørensen, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the University of Copenhagen, told Ritzau that the sunny summer weather was allowing people to meet outside, and vaccinations were having an impact, allowing Denmark to open up without a surge in infections.

On Sunday morning, 138 people were being treated for coronavirus in Denmark’s hospitals, up four from Saturday, or whom 29 were in intensive care. 

Some 40.4 percent of the population has now received at least one dose of vaccine and 23.2 percent have received both doses. 

Sunny summer weather expected in Denmark this week 

Denmark is expected to have warm sunny weather with temperatures of 18C to 23C, with blue skies and little rain, Danish Meteorological Institute said on Monday. 

“This week looks really nice and summery, and it will be mostly dry weather most of the time,” Anja Bodholdt, a meteorologist at the institute told Ritzau on Monday.  “The only exception is Monday, when people in Jutland and Funen might wake up to scattered showers that move east during the day.” 

Danish property market show signs of cooling 

The number of houses being put on the market fell again in May, according to new figures released from Home, one of Denmark’s largest online estate agents. 

According to Bjørn Tangaa Sillemann, an analyst at Danske Bank, the figures suggest that momentum is seeping out of what has been a “scorching” market over the last year, although he said it was unlikely prices would actually fall. 
 
“Although demand seems to be declining, it is still high, and when interest declines, it can also make it less attractive to put your home up for sale than it has been recently,” he said.
 
At Home, 5.1 percent fewer houses were put on the market in May, while the number of apartments put on the market fell 9 percent, and the number of sales fell by 2.1 and 5.7 percent respectively.
 
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