Surveys of national happiness routinely place European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Switzerland as well as New Zealand, Australia and Canada at the head of the global well-being stakes. Despite the financial crisis that has been plaguing Europe in recent years, the continent remains the happiest region in the world. The latest World Happiness Report, published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, as well as the 2001 Legatum Prosperity Index rank Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand and Australia as the top 10 happiest countries in the world. Leaders in the dissatisfaction stakes include Togo, Afghanistan, Syria, Haiti, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia among other third-world countries. The surveys run through a model that demonstrates the importance of factors such as social capital and health, effective governance, personal freedom, opportunity, safety and security, economy and education. Yet, these studies also provide an alternative to purely economic measures of national performance such as GDP, in the sense that the top countries on the list are not necessarily the wealthiest ones. Surveys examining exclusively the happiest and unhappiest states in Europe expose Northern European countries as significantly happier than Latin European countries, with the unstable economies of Mediterranean nations Greece, Cyprus and Portugal suspected to have caused an overly negative effect on the well-being of their populations. Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania are also reported as three of the saddest countries in Europe. But as happiness is also largely dependent on individual attitude, we cannot deem economy as the only or most prominent factor that threatens the formula for contentedness. Despite financial instability in recent years, the GDP figures for these countries do not justify the large amounts of dissatisfaction. In turn, it seems that citizens of these countries ignore their freedom to choose the manner in which they can approach any given situation. Ingrida Geciene of Vilnius University, Lithuania, researched the happiness of people in 31 European countries and found that ‘voluntarists’ (people who feel they have free choice and complete control over their life) were happier than ‘fatalists’ (people who think little in life can depend on personal freedom or intervention). According to data from her survey, voluntarists admit that they are happy much more frequently than fatalists. Indeed, Latin European countries have a dramatically higher percentage of fatalists than Nordic countries. According to the WIN-Gallup International Religion and Atheism Index Macedonia (90% religious) Italy (87.6), Malta (98% religious) and Greece (95% religious) top the list of Europe’s most religious nations. It is also interesting to note that several studies have found three of the happiest countries in the world- New Zealand (38.55% non-religious), Sweden (76% non-religious), Netherlands (66% non-religious)- to be three of the most secular countries too. Countries with the highest average self-reported happiness are the least religious, while the most religious states are the least happy.Both happiness and religiosity are undeniably affected by the highly developed character of countries such as Sweden and Denmark. Yet the high percentages of fatalism that religion has engraved in the minds of the populations of Latin European and Mediterranean countries bring us to the conclusion that it is, at least in countries where basic human needs are fulfilled, highly a matter of attitude.
When E.M. Forster described Constantine Cavafy, the only modern Greek writer whose complete poems have been published in more than one English translation, as ‘a Greek gentleman in a straw hat, standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe’, he perfectly reflected the unique perspective Cavafy brought on history, geography, sensuality and language. Cavafy’s poetry implicitly poses complex questions- and often, answers- concerning national, cultural and sexual identity, free will and art. Yet in all its perplexity, Cavafy’s poetic oeuvre also strives to express outstandingly simple, universal truths about moral character and the psychology of individuals. ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’, one of Cavafy’s most important and well-known works, is historically framed around an unnamed city-state where everything has come to a halt because its citizens are awaiting the arrival of the barbarians. It alludes to various political and national issues, portraying a state whose lawmakers wait in stagnant idleness to be corrupted, and particularly pointing at the danger imposed by any state that needs enemies as a perpetual excuse:
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?
The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?
Why do the senators sit there without legislating?
Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now?
Once the barbarians are here, they’ll do the legislating.
(translated by Edmund Keeley)
Yet at the core of the poem’s vision is not its ethnic preoccupation, but its philosophical backdrop. The arrival of the barbarians symbolizes the change that the citizens rely on to provide them with a purpose, a point to live. The community finds itself in a dead end, unable to find meaning within the existing conditions of their being. Ethical merits are undervalued or even neglected and political and legislative institutions have given up their duties. The paradox is that amidst the ruins of abandonment and absolute indifference, the humiliating subordination to the barbarians is portrayed as the only rescue. The citizens of this ancient state depend on external factors to alter their constant state of idleness and provide a solution to their community, which seems to be plagued by unprecedented social and political decline:
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
(How serious people’s faces have become.)
Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly.
Everyone going home so lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come. […]
And now, what’s going to happen with us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
But this temporary ‘solution’ is just a delusion, Cavafy suggests. Which brings us to the poem’s central and universally simple message, that we don’t have to wait in order to experience new feelings. We do not need to wait for external factors to make us happy. The meaning and happiness of life is in the present, not in the distant promise of a “someday when…” It is an attitude rather than a condition; it is about our attitude towards daily, simple things: good sleep, a fulfilling breakfast, a meaningful conversation. Our ability to be happy is given to us from the moment we are born; it is the mass-culture of media and commercialism that has shaped this new definition of happiness as a state founded on external expectations. We can unlearn what has been engraved in our heads, go back to our roots and release our ability to be happy with what we have. Happiness is a decision, and the active choice to be happy is enough, or at least, this attitude provides a very strong foundation for our happiness. Someone once said that a truly happy person is one who can enjoy the scenery while on a detour. Someone who can be happy without cause, who does not have to wait for the ‘barbarians’ to promise relief, salvation or grant a higher aim.
‘Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen.’
In the words of Pete Carroll, head coach of the Seattle Seahawks of the US National Football League, we all hold immense inner power and coaching can empower us with the focus and training we need to achieve our greatest goals. Naturally, you may question the need for a coach. But the fact is, you can’t build muscle in an hour or a day; lasting results come with total immersion and consistent training. A life coach, just like a sports coach, will raise your standards and accelerate your results in any area of your life. But whereas the task of a sports trainer is to take a player where he can’t take himself, a personal coach is there to unlock our hidden potential to take ourselves where we desire and deserve to be. Life coaching enables individuals rather than trains them. It develops rather than imposes, reflects rather than directs. It helps you gather the courage you need to fulfill your life dreams and professional goals. Like an educator, a life coach teaches you to see vitality in yourself, believe in your real self unconstrained by the opinions and values of others. He becomes a mirror of who you really are, helping you discover what is intrinsically meaningful to you beyond external expectations and providing the direction and clarity you need to create a more rewarding life. Most importantly, to understand the effect of training is to learn how to use setbacks to your advantage and face obstacles as challenges to embrace. Life coaching aims to draw out an individual’s potential rather than putting in aims and knowledge from external factors. It is not therapy; therapy is designed to deal with issues from the past. It does not offer prescriptions, but supports people to thrive in the present and future by empowering them to come up with their own answers, visions and action plans. It is about moving forward, learning and developing. This is the unique and priceless value of coaching; because the time to act is now!