Why are Italians so miserable?

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A recent survey found Italians to be among the least happy in Europe. File image: Bob Smith/
14:59 CEST+02:00
Italy might be famous for 'la dolce vita', but life is not so sunny for the people who live here, according to a recent survey which positions Italians among the unhappiest in Europe.

Italians trail behind the UK, France and Germany when it comes to being happy, according to the World Happiness Survey published earlier this month. 

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

With Italy coming 45th in the world, placing it among the least happiest countries in Europe, it would seem that living in a beautiful country with an abundance of sunshine and good food does nothing to take the edge off the problems Italians encounter in their daily lives.

In fact, their counterparts in chilly Denmark came top of the happiness ranking.

So what is making the Italians so unhappy?

Carlo Cipolli, a professor in psychology at the University of Bologna, says Italians have always been known for their warmth and friendliness, but that over the past ten years it’s become harder for them to simply “accept” the country’s woes and pretend “it’s just how Italy is”.

“They like interaction with people and are always happy to chat,” he tells The Local.

“But there’s a big difference between being cordial on the surface and being happy.”

Italy is steeped in its longest recession in two decades, with almost five million living in poverty - double the figure in 2008 - according to a report published earlier this week.

Cipolli says that Italians are worried about their future and, on top of this, they have little faith in their politicians.

“Their well-being has been hit hard by the economic crisis - they’re less financially secure than they were ten years ago. There are people who have been jobless for years and so just stay at home all day, with little to occupy them apart from their families. So they have a lot troubling them.”

Gino Benetti, a bar owner near Alassio in the northern coastal region of Liguria, agrees that the economic crisis is at the root of the country’s unhappiness, especially for those struggling to run a business or find a job.

Between January and June, 21,000 shops across Italy closed down , according to the most recent report by the retail association Confesercenti.

“We’re being strangled financially,” Benetti tells The Local.

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“I used to open all-year-round, but with all the taxes I have to pay and the costs of running a business, I only open during the summer. Italy is beautiful but it’s a very sad place to be right now.”

Others say that while Italians generally love their country and its rich heritage, it’s a difficult ‘system’ to live in, particularly when it comes to bureaucracy and finding work. They also deem politics and the judicial system as highly corrupt.

“As an Italian, you are faced with these things all the time,” says Antonio Marella, a scientific researcher in Rome.

However, Rome businessman Carmello Brunetta suspects the data from well-being surveys perhaps doesn’t paint a true reflection of a population’s mindset.

“I suspect their conclusions are not the result of surveys but rather an exercise in data analysis, which means that, for all we know, the Danes may be happy on paper but if you ask the man in the street they will reveal a suicidal mood," he says.

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