About six weeks ago, I asked a simple question on this blog: Why is Bulgaria, relative to its income per person, the saddest place in the world? Since that time, I’ve had the chance to ask numerous Bulgarians this same question. Not surprisingly, many Bulgarians disputed the premise. But many others did not. Other opinions on this topic can be found here and here, but these are some of the more thoughtful and interesting explanations I was given.
Bulgarians Know too Much
According to the Bible, "with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief." Put another way, "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise."
As a whole, Bulgarians are very well educated. They know what life is like in places like Western Europe, the United States, Canada, and Australia. It is these places with which Bulgarians compare themselves, and, when doing so, they tend to look upon Bulgaria unfavorably. They understand concepts such as democracy, capitalism, and meritocracy both as theoretical ideals and as practical systems of societal governance. And they are aware of the widespread corruption within Bulgaria which has kept such ideals from being realized. So, while most are appreciative of the political freedoms the past twenty years have brought to Bulgaria, many are resentful that corresponding economic freedoms have, in large part, been limited to a select group of politically connected elites.
Unhappiness is Part of the Bulgarian National Psyche
Bulgaria was under the Turkish yoke for nearly five centuries. In other words, Bulgarians were slaves to the Turks for almost five hundred years. When you are a slave and someone asks you, “How are you?” what do you think the answer will be? When has anyone been happy to be someone else’s slave? According to some Bulgarians, because of this history and the many years under communism, the concept of happiness has seeped out of Bulgaria’s national psyche.
Personally, I think this may be changing. There are some Bulgarians who, no matter what, answer the question, “Как си? (How are you?)” by saying, “Горе-долу (So-so).” But these folks tend to be older. When I ask my students the same question, most answer by saying, “Добре (Good),” “Супер (Super),” or “Екстра (Extra).” On those occasions when one does answer, “Горе-долу,” he or she is typically having a bad day or is sick.
Bulgarians are Very Superstitious
Many Bulgarians are extremely superstitious. The Bulgarian paranoia with “течение (drafts)” has been the bane of my existence since I got here, and it’s just one of many Bulgarian superstitions. The longer I’m here, the more I learn.
For example, last year, a friend who attends my adult English classes was having a birthday the day after one of our classes. I informed the class of this fact and wished her a happy birthday in front of everyone. I was surprised when no one else followed suit. After class, I walked with my friend toward our respective homes. When we went our separate ways I again wished her a happy birthday. This made her very upset and she scolded me for wishing her a happy birthday before it was actually her birthday. This, she told me, was sure to bring her bad luck.
I wasn’t surprised then when several Bulgarians said that, even if happy, some Bulgarians won’t admit to it for fear it will jinx them and bring them bad luck.
Bulgarians are Immoral
More than one philosopher has opined that to attain true happiness one must make morality his ultimate concern. Several of the Bulgarians I spoke to believe that Bulgarian unhappiness is corollary to the country’s immorality.
Bulgarians are Honest
This hypothesis seems contrary to several of the others, but more than one Bulgarian suggested it as a possibility. Ask a Bulgarian a question, and you’ll generally get a straightforward, honest answer. It might not be the answer you wanted to hear and you might have to listen to an earful, but what you’ll hear will most likely be the truth.
Bulgaria is Doomed by the Stars
Mundane astrology is a line of astrology that holds that countries, like people, have horoscopes. Some Bulgarians believe Bulgaria’s current condition is a result of the country’s horoscope.
Some of these explanations make more sense to me than others, but I’ll leave it up to you to decide what you believe the answer to my question is.