Happy Days

In a recent post, I discussed the spiritual malaise which afflicted the Russian people during the Soviet era, leading to rampant alcoholism and early death. If anybody doubts that contemporary Russia is successfully overcoming this malaise, then the results of two surveys published last week should enlighten them.

The first survey was produced by the All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre, VTsIOM (Vserossiiskii Tsentr Izucheniia Obshchestvennogo Mneniia). Its overall index subtracts the percentage of people dissatisfied with their lives from those fully or partly satisfied. As seen from the results below, the overall index has declined from a peak one year ago (perhaps associated with a Crimean annexation feel-good factor), but within that index the percentage of Russians declaring that they are ‘fully or mostly’ satisfied with their lives is currently just below the all-time high registered in February of this year, and nearly twice what it was ten years ago. It seems that Russians are lot happier than they used to be.

In general is your life in good order or not?
III.05 III.06 III.07 III.08 III.09 III.10 III.11 III.12 III.13 III.14 I.15 II.15 III.15
Fully or mostly 24 24 24 25 24 32 29 40 36 43 50 52 50
Partly, partly not 38 42 43 46 44 43 42 38 40 42 30 27 28
Definitely not, or mostly not 39 33 31 28 31 25 29 21 23 14 18 20 20
Difficult to tell 1 2 1 1 2 1 1 5 2 1 2
Index 23 33 36 43 37 50 42 57 53 71 63 59 58

The second survey is the so-called ‘Smiling Report’, described as ‘an annual evaluation of how warmly shoppers are greeted around the world.’  This is based upon the reports of mystery shoppers who record whether staff smile at them. According to the latest results, ‘Russia has come 15th out of 69 countries for the friendliness of its customer service … Analysts and industry insiders say that Russia’s approach to customer service has drastically changed in the last 10 years – a period that has seen its “smile index” increase by almost 100 percent.’

For anybody who can remember the surly, uncooperative, even downright hostile lack of service which characterized the Soviet Union, this is a remarkable transformation, and I think that it is one which has wider societal ramifications. The surly sales clerk may, in some respects, be more honest than the polite one who smiles while secretly thinking how much she hates her job and what a jerk you are, but universal rudeness makes for depressing days. Soviet surliness was at the same time both symptomatic of the country’s spiritual malaise and a cause of it: ground down by the system, people abused what little power they had, while the general atmosphere of unpleasantness made daily life for everybody just that much more miserable.


Analyses of contemporary Russia tend to focus on high politics, in particular the autocratic tendencies of the central government. The sociological data tell an interesting story as well. Despite its manifold problems, compared with its past Russia seems to be an increasingly good place to live for ordinary people.

5 thoughts on “Happy Days”

  1. Interesting to see what the comparative US figures for the first state of mind would be. Increasingly unhappy, I would guess.


  2. In the article the author mentioned ” the spiritual malaise which afflicted the Russian people during the Soviet era” made me indignant, not furious but – indignant. If to judge of spirituality according to the number of open churches-than yes;but SPRITUALITY means much more much than attending church every Sunday. Have you ever thought of it? Another thing is a notion of “Happiness”. It is not a one side notion as well. We had a lot of social advantages in the Soviet time which we lost, but a lot of problems as well.Don’t you have problems in your country?
    Smiling-if Russians smile-it is a really sincere smile etc… etc
    So, instead of judging others I would suggest learn more about people away from you;Let’s learn more about each other, why not to create PEACE THROUGH CULTURE!?- and than, may be, there will be less comments like (see above) (by the way, I have never been”Partei Genosse” and have always been more or less free in my opinions and one of the biggest Internationalists in a good sense.


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