Allow me to start this article by saying that I am not writing to you sitting on my pink cloud, in a mansion somewhere in the middle of a British countryside. I am an immigrant from Greece, living now in the Netherlands, staying in on a Saturday night (the Orthodox Easter, that my family is now celebrating in my homeland) to write web content, to make a living. My partner is also from Greece, but he came to The Netherlands a year before the crisis. He came to study. It was his own choice. But to stay here after his studies was the only viable choice. Many of my friends have gone abroad to study with the hope of finding a job in Europe. Most of them are still unemployed. The rest, who stayed in Greece, are all unemployed.
I might live abroad, but that does not mean that I do not know how life is back home. And how life is back home for the Spanish, Cypriots, Portuguese, Irish. And the thousands of unemployed American youth. This crisis has affected Europe but US is not doing much better either. Of course, I am aware about all the third world countries and the fact that they are in a much worse situation. But I have not lived their lives, so I cannot write for them. I can only try to stay informed and not close my eyes and ears to their suffering. But I digress. Back to the Western World. Back to a generation that is faced with unemployment, uncertainty and what comes with it.
When you are 25-35 and you do not have enough money to take your date out, to rent a house of your own, to buy a car or even put fuel to your second-hand one from 1985, to buy a gift to your friend, to go on a 5-day vacation, to pay for health insurance and pension funds, well…it is kind of the normal thing to be miserable. When you have to move to a foreign country to look for a job and you do not speak the language and the people are hostile -because they are already afraid for their own jobs, or because they have been told that your people are lazy and the crisis is all their fault- then it is only normal to feel blue. When you have to leave behind your old parents, your friends, your love, the only people who really know and understand you, yes, it is only normal to feel depressed. When you stay at your homeland and you have to work 10 hours a day and get payed 300 euros and go back to your parent’s home to sleep, yes, it is normal to feel hopeless.
So how the hell can you be happy?
The power of communities
I have to say that what has helped me a great deal is communication. Talking with my partner and trying to find solutions and talking with my friends to emotionally support each other has helped a great deal. It was these people who helped me go through my first, rough, year here. Even if your community can not give you practical solutions to your problems, be open and keep sharing your thoughts. Two brains working on a problem are better than one and ten brains are even better. Be positive. Try to encourage people in your community who have a plan, even if it seems hopeless to you. Express your concerns but in a constructive way. There is nothing worse than people pulling each other down. Misery loves company but you should try and get your company out of misery. Even if your friends do not manage to find solutions for you, you will get your spirits up by helping a friend. And when we see other people’s lives getting better, we re-gain our hope for our own lives.
Expressing our feelings
Additionally, do not be afraid to use your community to let some steam off. In times of desperation, crying is OK. No one will think that you are less of a man or woman if you express your feelings. Bottling everything up because of your pride or embarrassment will only make your life worse. If you do not talk about your problems, people cannot help you. Also, keep in mind that in times of crisis people are preoccupied with their own problems, so giving subtle signs that you are not well might go unnoticed. It does not mean that people do not care about you. Speak up! By venting you release the tension and make some room in your mind for action plans. Let’s make something clear though: expressing your feelings and trying to improve your life is very different from constant whining. Yes, you are justified to whine, but it will not help you, so don’t! If you feel depressed, inform your family about it. Suicide rates are going up and this happened to a great extend due to the fact that the older generations have not learned to talk about their feelings. Dealing with a financial disaster and the feelings of personal failure is a situation very hard to handle without help.
Ambitions and change of plans
Another way to be happy in the crisis is to reflect upon your ambitions. Yes, your parents built a house, have a car and a garden and also a summer house. But are these really your dreams? Is that what would make you happy? Even if that is the case, is it really feasible? Maybe your parents are now in debt, because of all the loans they got to built these houses. Or maybe they got much higher salaries, that are now impossible to get. Thinking realistically and deciding what is possible and what not can help you see your future more clearly. In my case, both me and my partner agree that what is most important for us is to not have a debt. We are very lucky and we both have houses that our parent built in our names back in Greece. But we are not using them, because we live abroad. Still, we will not buy a house hear, because this would mean that we would need to get a loan. Instead, we have been renting different places the years that we live hear. This gave us the chance to live in different environments, meet new people and learn to coexist with different cultures. If we had a house here, we would have never met these people, seen these places, lived in these different neighborhoods. And I believe that these experiences leaved a positive mark on us and helped us grow and become more open and tolerant.
Live and let live
Side by side with our decision not to buy a house comes our decision not to own or drive a car. I never wanted to get a driver’s license because I have no sense of danger and for environmental reasons. My partner has a driver’s license, because that’s what every boy who turns 18 needs to get in Greece,but he hates driving. I come from Athens, that has a quite dense public transport system that allows me to go anywhere I want in less than half an hour. In the Netherlands, we can just bike everywhere or, in the case of our small city, just walk. By not using a car we are not destroying the ozone layer, we are not further depleting the fossil fuel reserves and we will not kill anyone by accident. I know though that there are people who have to go to work by car, because their work might be outside of the city and no public transport goes there. Then sharing a lift is a great option. A car can fit 4-5 people and you can split the fuel costs. This means that if you can not afford your car insurance, you might as well sell it and avoid a debt. Carpooling also reduces environmental damage. That might not seem so significant to you now, but once the financial crisis subsides, the environmental damage will be revealed in all its glory and we won’t like it, trust me.
Sharing and caring
I was one of those spoiled kids that never needed to work during my studies or even share my student houses with others. This is the case for the vast majority of Greeks who are now 25-35 years old. I thought that I could never share a house with others and the thought of housemates made me nervous. When I came to the Netherlands however and saw how my partner’s life was, sharing a house with 5 more people, I started being less negative. Everyone had their room and they shared a kitchen and three bathrooms. Sure, the kitchen was often dirty because an 18-years old definition of “tidy” is much different than the idea a 28-year old has for the same word. And the bathroom was not always clean either. But somehow they all got along or at least tolerated each other. They often ate dinner altogether and you would never feel lonely in this house. In the Netherlands almost all students aged 18 and older live with housemates. There is the option of student housing with individual, tiny studios, that many international students prefer. But renting a house with housemates allows you to live in a proper house with a proper kitchen and bathroom and often even a garden and balcony. Sure, you gotta share, but that is a very useful life skill! So right after the end of my studies, I decided to try it out. And I rented the most amazing apartment where I lived with a Korean housemate. She is an angel. We immediately clicked and I felt that the Universe was being super kind to me for taking that chance. It is not always the case. There are many horror stories with bad housemates out there. But you can always get a new place. This is not the case though if your housemates are your parents.
It is very sad to see people in their late 20s moving back to their parents’ homes, because they cannot afford the rent. How can you enjoy a night with your friends or with your lover on your single puberty bed, with all the posters from your teenage years staring at you and your parents watching the news in the living room? But think about it. You might not be able to rent a place on your own. But what about living with 2 or three of your friends? Or even finding other people that you did not know before, to share an apartment together? Surely, you need to do a careful research, but having your own room and sharing the kitchen with people of your age is really worth it. And it is quite simple to avoid tension and misunderstandings. Just be clear about what you can and can not tolerate from the start. Smoking, loud music, sharing the fridge shelves and a cleaning schedule are some of the points of to discuss. One of the most talented young writers of Greece has been living with housemates for more than 7 years. Did that stop him from being creative? Not at all!
Finding your path
I studied an awful lot of years to become an architect. I succeeded. I became a member of the Technical Chamber of Greece. I got a second master’s degree. And then -BOOM!- crisis! For me, it was a blessing in disguise. When I was young, at some point I wanted to be a painter. My parents said that I could be an architect, which was kind of the same but you also got payed. I found that a great idea. With this story I want to illustrate that art-related occupations are not considered real jobs in Greece. It is a good thing I did not become a painter though, because I am not talented at all. But I do have a thing for writing. I thoroughly enjoy it and I kept writing throughout my architectural studies. The fact that I did not find a job in architecture was enough to give me the freedom I needed to pursue a career in writing. In any case, money was not on the horizon. And who would have thought? I ended up making a living writing! Of course, the support of my partner, friends and family was more than helpful.
Many people from my generation have chosen a path of studies because it seemed like a safe choice that would lead to a high, stable income. Following your dreams, if your dream was to become anything but a doctor, lawyer or engineer, was considered childish or a sign of pathological lack of ambition. The crisis has changed that. Most likely, no matter what you have studied, if you are from a country that got hit hard by the crisis, you are likely unemployed, working part time or getting a lousy salary. So why not abandon all that and try to see if you can pursue your real dream. Of course, ideally, we should all be doing that anyway.
Your thoughts and experiences
Please feel free to share with us in the comments section your experiences, tips and tricks on how to live happily in the middle of the crisis.