Russians’ Happiness More Dependent on Nationalism than on Money, Sociologists Say

Map of Russia and Russian Flag adapted from images at

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, April 3, 2019)

Russians have fallen ten places in the international happiness, from 49th in 2017 to 59th last year, and sociologists have been studying why that has occurred and what makes Russians happy. Their conclusion, Elena Rotkevich says, is that money doesn’t make Russians happy but that nationalism does.

Like other nations, the St. Petersburg journalist says, Russians become happier when they have more money and less when they have less, sociologists say; but since 2008, these two measures of well-being have diverged, with the amount of money and that of happiness no longer tracking together (

According to sociologist Eduard Ponarin, “money is important for happiness, especially when there isn’t much of it.” But since 2008, these trend lines have diverged: “Happiness has increased but satisfaction with one’s life has not.” While most of the boost came in the fat year of the early 2000s, it has continued, albeit at a slower rate, even though economic measures have stagnated or even declined.

That development, he suggests, reflects the increase in patriotic feelings, the sense many have that their country “is moving in the right direction.” Indices of happiness “bounced” after the war in Georgia and the annexation of Crimea. “But the potential of patriotism is already close to exhaustion.”

Happiness from patriotism is a shot term phenomenon and must be fed or it will dissipate, Panarin says. “Georgia, Crimea and Syria” all helped Russians to become happier for a time. But “what’s next? Venezuela?” He argues that “Russia has come to happiness via nationalism” rather than economic progress.

“With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, there occurred as well a collapse of the worldviews people had.” Russians were no longer certain what was good and what was bad. “Each was out for himself. But a society cannot exist for long if that is the case,” the sociologist argues.

Russians need some common values to “bind” them together, Panarin continues. What will that ideology look like? There aren’t that many choices – left of center, liberal and conservative. Russians have tried and cast aside the first two and that leaves the conservative variant.

“A conservative ideology can be realized through religion or through nationalism,” the sociologist says. “Since religion in post-communist countries does not have much influence, there remains only nationalism.” And on the basis of it, people will be able to decide “who we are and who others are.”

In Russia, there are two forms of nationalism, one that focuses on “‘people from the Caucasus'” and a second that focuses on the Americans. “The better we are in relations with the US, the worst toward the Caucasus,” he says, adding that “the reverse” is also true. “Caucasians,” of course, is a term that includes Central Asians as well.

Russian elites focus on the Americans as the significant other that defines them, but the Russian people focus on “the Caucasians,” Panarin says. That divide explains much of “the duality” of Moscow’s nationality policy with part of it being about great power nationalism and part about “ethnic nationalism.”

But “after the Crimean events,” Panarin says, “a decisive shift toward great power nationalism occurred. Now, we oppose ourselves to the West and try within the country to unite everyone under this slogan,” including those like people from the North Caucasus whom many others do not like.

Much depends on which kind of nationalism is dominant. If Russia moves in the direction of ethnic nationalism, reuniting the Soviet space will be hard because so much of it is populated by Muslims. But if it moves toward great power nationalism, then the integration process will be easier and accelerate.

“Now, as in the USSR,” Panarin continues, “elites believe that Russia’s interests must not be limited to its territory. Between 2012 and 2016, the share of representatives of elite who supported great power ambitions flew up from approximately 10 percent to almost 90 percent.” And there was almost as large an increase in those who said force matter more than economics.

Rotkevich also spoke with Svetlana Posokhova, a psychologist at St. Petersburg State University. The scholar said happy individuals manifest spiritual comfort, a sense of humor, self-confidence, and a sense of physical well-being. Unhappy ones live by stereotypes, are unwilling to change, and have the sense everything good was in the past and the future will be joyless.

A major reason for unhappiness, Posokhova said, is that people compare their situations with those of people they watch on television and decide they’re doing worse than those shown on screen.

And Rotkevich spoke with Margarita Izotova, a psychologist at St. Petersburg’s Medical University, who has studied the state of happiness among teenagers in the northern capital. According to Izotova, 38 percent of that cohorot say that they have never felt themselves to be happy.

That is not a good sign for the future, she suggests. But perhaps an even worse one is that every eighth one of them when asked “do you want to be happy?” responds by saying “I don’t know.”

[Article also appeared at]