The Worse Russians Live, The Happier They Are, VTsIOM Poll Suggests

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(Paul Goble – Staunton, December 23, 2017)

According to a poll conducted by the VTsIOM agency, Russians now have begun to feel even happier than they did before the onset of the crisis as measured by the different between those who tell sociologists that they are happy and those who say they are not.

Valery Fedorov, the head of VTsIOM, says that this shows that people have adapted to “the new and far from simple conditions of life” and have learned “to feel themselves happy not thank to but in spire of” low pay, inadequate pensions, unemployment, and rising prices (

Experts, however, cast doubt on the VTsIOM claim. Andrey Bunich, a Moscow economist, says the polling firm’s data are highly problematic not only because the firm is linked to the authorities but also because of the difficulties of measuring “happiness” in all circumstances. International experience shows that is very difficult.

“For example,” he says, “people in North Korea are absolutely happy and if someone isn’t happy, he will quickly be picked up and made happy in special places.” But not only political situations vary but so too do the mentalities of various peoples: some nations are more inclined to happiness than others.

Propaganda also plays a role, Bunich says. In the US, people are encouraged to be upbeat lest they be classed as “losers” or “failures.” Such views are also found among some Russians, “especially among the young.” And they are promoted by Moscow television which “zombifies” viewers and encourages them to view the world as the Kremlin wants them to.

But that in turn means that poll results in places like Russia resemble imaginary surveys in mad houses: there almost everyone is happy and smiling, at least after they are given their medications. “And with us, something like that has taken place over the last several years,” the economist says.

A second expert, social psychologist Aleksey Roshchin, agrees that there is little reason to trust polls in Russia today. As in Soviet times, they work under the direction of the powers that be. But nonetheless, their findings can be explained not just by what the authorities want but by how Russians react to circumstances.

Some Russians do strive to improve themselves even if that is hard or impossible. Others feel that no real improvement is possible and so adapt to what is. And a third group, perhaps the largest of all, is happy that despite everything, at least there is no war, an attitude that the authorities of course encourage.

The balance of these three groups has varied over the last 25 years. People were striving to improve themselves before 2014 and having the usual difficulties in doing so, Consequently, at that time, there were fewer happy Russians. But now they have given up, accepted they can’t achieve anything much, and are happier as a result.

“If before the crisis, an individual wanted to build a dacha, travel around the world or buy a car, now under crisis conditions, he recognizes” that he can’t do those things but has much to be pleased about, including the absence of war. Thus, things are “remarkable” and he or she will tell pollsters that they’re happy – just as they were in Brezhnev’s time.

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