Winter and shit happened her and there. I feel depressed. So I walked into a book shop to get some self-help psychological books before I get my turn in the six-month queue for a psychologist. Surprisingly, (or un-surprisingly), there are so many books on so-called positive psychology. They simply echo the advices I got from Norwegians. Be positive! Look at the bright side of life! At least, you have shelter and food. Think about those people in Syria who have neither peace or food, be grateful of what you have! At least you have a job to go to, think of those who lost their jobs in the oil sector. At least, you have health. Think about those who are sick with cancer and still fighting, do you still think you have something to complain? Why are you such a whiner? Why do you complain when you live in the richest country in the world? When you see a steak being overcooked on one side, you should focus on the other side… …
Previously when I was told so, I fell into deep reflection and started to doubt, if not to be ashamed, of myself. Yes, in this country, all you hear on the street, or any public places, is “Det var så hyggelig! (It was so nice!)” or “Kjempeflott (Very good)”, or such things. But excuse me, just a second. If everything is so perfect in this country, what is to account for the high depression and suicide rates? Those rates of Norway are even higher than lots of countries Norwegians regards as poor country or country without democracy.
In some countries, people criticise (complain) a lot, like in France, Italy, or some parts of China. Actually I heard in France, to be able to criticise is an indicator of being intelligent. In China, a country Norwegians forever label as a country with dictatorship and no human rights, I was taught to be different, to challenge the authority and to make changes from the first day in school. They told me, there is actually a very pragmatic reason to do that: because there are so many people in China, if you always do the same, say the same things, nobody will notice you and you will not stand out in the crowd. To say “everything good” in work place will surely incurred unamused eyes from colleagues as that is a clear signal that you just want to kiss the ass of the boss and keep your job. Even if one has absolutely no complaints, he would say something like, “though we are doing ok now, we can not be too complacent and have to keep our ears up since our competitors are looking at us like hungry wolves. If we relax for a second, they will swallow us. Therefore, I suggest the following improvement / changes… “.
Is Norway such a perfect country that there is absolutely nothing negative could be found? Well, the girls have the perfect make-up; you seldom see a fat or round person on the street and if you do, there is very likely a foreigner; their apartments are shining like Ikea´s show rooms; they have the shortest working hours in the world. I probably have mentioned how the girls quickly put on make-up in the change room right after training. (I always think this is a sign for gender inequality.) Some people argued with me that Norwegian girls do not put on make-up for guys, and instead they do it for themselves. But we don’t see our own make-up. So it must be for someone else. If it is not for the guys, then it is for the other girls, which I would call peer pressure. I heard of puberty age girls in Oslo, smart, beautiful and coming from good family, got depressed because she is not THAT skinny, just a tiny bit round… Work place drama is a whole new world to me in Norway. While in China, I always worried I would have to work for long hours once I started working. (This is probably well-known. However, what is less well-know is that Chinese have a much longer lunch and dinner, and that they might sleep, not even nap at the desk, but sleep in a bed, after lunch.) But among friends of my generation, office drama is not that often in the private sector because we live in an unprecedented economic boom and people are aware if they can make more money from outside, there is no point to spend time playing office politics with a colleague. While in Norway, I have heard so many cases of office conflicts that lead to depression, burnout and labor unions. This is not even most scary. What is truly most scary is that even all these are happening, people still put on a smile and tell you everything with this company is great! I have seen with my own eyes how a manager pressed down a very reasonable complaint of his employee, blaming the employee for not being grateful for the company while the manager himself was closing the negotiation to move to a new job. The pressure to be “hyggelig (nice)” and not to speak out any negativity is so overwhelming in Norway that you only hear about good things. (How could this be possible? If this perfectly peaceful picture of Norwegian place is true, the whole world will move to Norway.) It was so strong that made me feel hard to breathe and it was after a long struggle that I came to realise that to be negative is just to be human (we are the offsprings of people who focused on the sharp teeth and nails of tigers rather than their beautiful furs and reacted by running).
An argument against talking about negative things is that it doesn’t help. It does not make a difference, so stop complaining. However, I would argue it does make a difference. The way it does is through admitting the problem, which is the first and inevitable step to solve the problem! Only when one admits the existence of a problem, will he or she start to work on it and eventually solve it. Turning blind eyes to the dark side of life does not help.
Some attribute the pressure to be positive, or at least not to be verbally negative, to the famous Janteloven (the century-old nordic rule that one should not be different from others in the community). But Janteloven can also lead to everybody complaining. So this would still boil down to the very inner insecurity of the people. The more insecure people feel about themselves, the more necessary for them to put on a fasade to look great. This explained the silence at a personal level.
I think this trend of “positive psychology” is made use of by the managements in companies and politicians that manage the country. Because they are “in power”, they do not want any voice to challenge the status quo, which they enjoy. So labelling anyone who spoke out dissatisfaction as being negative would help them hold their position. Image if the Chinese communist party start to use this very western positive psychology to teach its citizens stop complaining and be grate for the party, how would the western media write about it?
While Norwegians are always perfect and have nothing to complain about, all coverage about China in Norwegian media is negative. You never hear a single piece of positive news about China from Norwegian newspapers or TV. When I asked my Norwegian acquaintances, they told me this is just the selling tricks of the newspapers. People want to read bad things in a remote country and this is how the newspapers are sold. Then can I write negative things about Norway to increase my readership of this blog, which is very small now? 😀