The Greek Secret to Happiness | Unravelling the Greek Way of Thinking

In the 1960s’ romantic comedy film “Never on Sunday”, an American classicist visits Greece to find the secret to happiness. Years earlier, the book “Zorba the Greek” follows a young intellectual to the island of Crete, where he tries to liberate himself from his bookish life. Greece and specifically the Greek countryside and the Greek islands, are often portrayed as the lost paradise; the eternal vacation destination where time moves slowly and everyone lives a happy, long life.

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The truth is that it is hard to pinpoint what happiness really is. Is it an abstract philosophical idea or a measurable variable? The Sustainable Development Solutions Network, supported by different foundations, publishes the “World Happiness Report”, which tries to measure happiness based on six key variables, including income and absence of corruption.

Greece is objectively in a negative position in both cases. But, throughout the years, even during the difficult financial period of 2010-2018, Greece – or at least the Greek countryside- has been perceived as a generally happy place. Is this based on a stereotypical portrayal of smiling Greeks breaking plates and dancing syrtaki on a postcard? Or are there more things to consider when talking about happiness?

A Stoic Perspective on Happiness

The Stoic philosophers have long been associated with holding the key to a happier life. They understood that happiness is a mental state and, therefore, external factors, such as money or government corruption, are irrelevant. In other words, it is not the things that happen to you or your circumstances that influence your mental well-being, but the way you perceive these events and circumstances.

As someone who grew up in Greece and was influenced by the Greek culture and the Greek way of thinking, I have noticed that there are indeed many things that Greeks believe or do that help them be more content with their life.  

Happiness and The Greek State of Mind

The first thing that comes to mind is the attitude of Greeks towards indulgence. In the video on modern Greek culture, I mentioned that Greeks have intermediate scores when it comes to indulgence vs. restrain. That means that we learn from a young age how to do everything in moderation and enjoy the pleasures of life without guilt.

There are many cultures that promote a very strict disciplined lifestyle. And that can be translated as having long periods of avoiding sugar, fats, alcohol – you name it – and then a weekend of emotional eating or getting blacked-out drunk, even putting themselves in great danger. The object of indulgence is demonized and people feel guilty for giving in. Now, that doesn’t mean that there are no Greeks who fall into a vicious cycle like this, but this mentality of constantly feeling guilty is far from the Greek way of thinking.

That may surprise some, since the modern Greek culture is heavily influenced by the teachings of Greek Orthodox Christianity. The latter suggest an ascetic, simple life, that focuses on mind and soul over matter. Today, however, this lifestyle is usually followed by people who choose to live in monasteries, rather than the average Greek Orthodox believer or even priest. Greek priests are often the “life of the party” of every village – drinking and dancing in traditional festivals.

But even the ascetic life of the monks is not free from pleasures. Monasteries in Greece are always located in breathtaking locations, usually on a hill to have an inspiring view. Keep this in mind because this will make more sense later.

Now, another thing that may contribute to the happiness of Greeks is the mindset that everyone deserves to have a good, fulfilling life.No matter the size of your house or the amount of money saved in your bank account, you should avoid misery at all costs. We often say «η φτώχεια θέλει καλοπέραση» – “poverty needs fun”. It may sound cheesy but dancing, singing, and telling jokes is for free. And other fun activities, such as eating and drinking with friends, do not always cost a fortune.

What I’ve noticed when I got in touch with people living in other countries in the world is that there are certain cultures that make people feel guilt for having fun and enjoying life, when they are things missing from their lives – including money. The Greek way of thinking dictates that you should not postpone happiness. You should enjoy life, with all the means you have, now.

Then we have the concept of “meraki” – and specifically working with meraki. Meraki is when you put all your effort towards your work. Have you ever watched an old man in an Greek island making a kaiki – a traditional fishing boat? How slowly and carefully he carves the wood and paints the details. Working with meraki, with all your attention and focus, is the opposite of what a modern economy needs to be the world’s leader: mass production and quantity over quality. But it can make you feel more creative and fulfilled with your work. More content with your life.

Another thing that comes to mind is the concept of “comicotragedy” in the Greek culture. Situations that are both comical and tragic, in which laughing and crying are both acceptable reactions. Foreigners are often surprised to find out that their favorite upbeat song that everyone dances to is actually describing a painful breakup. Greeks don’t have less tragic events happening to their lives than others. But they learn that they can make jokes with the things that bring them down, such as losing a job, a relationship or dealing with a health issue. It may be a coping mechanism but… it works!

Last but not least, let’s not forget that Greece has a collectivistic culture, where people keep strong ties with their close family members. You always feel like someone has your back and, by seeing yourself in a group, it is less likely to question your purpose and the reason for your existence.This of course is a double-edged sword, since you may feel too comfortable with what you have – you may be reluctant to take risks, open a business, or take a different route than the one of your family members. But today’s topic is about happiness, not risk-taking.

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Overlooked External Factor for Happiness  

But are Greeks happier only because of their way of thinking? Well, there must be some external factors as well. I am not going to be mentioning the role of sunlight and vitamin D, since studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency is also prevalent in Greece. But here is one external factor that I believe is connected to those living in the Greek countryside being overall content with their life. It may sound strange but bear with me.

Have you ever noticed how most Greek villages are located on a hill, built amphitheatrically, and overlooking the sea? Greeks have been placing a great focus on location since ancient times. They would avoid areas that are flat, dark, and far from a water source. There were practical reasons for this but, at the same time, living somewhere with a great view uplifts your spirit. You may live in a tiny house in a small village, but you feel like the king of the world. You have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, fish from the sea, and a house that you wouldn’t change for anything, no matter how humble it is. The magnificent landscapes are attributed with inspiring ancient Greeks to travel and explore new places, hence starting trading and building a strong civilization.

There are other parts of the world, even in the biggest economies, where living in nice landscapes requires a lot of money. Hills are reserved for the upper class and there are particular areas with affordable housing. People who struggle financially have to live in buildings that resemble boxes. Grey walls, no natural light. In this case, happiness and inspiration require a heavy wallet.       

Is a Happy Life an Exciting Life?

Before we end this video, I need to address that there is no global definition for happiness. In Greek, «ευδαιμονία» or «ευτυχία» is perceived as being overall content and satisfied with your life. Not necessarily smiling excessively, being always in a good mood, or living an extraordinary life. It is about the small things. Enjoying a cup of coffee looking outside your window. Taking care of your plants and making sure that your home feels homy, no matter how small. And most importantly, knowing that you are worthy of happiness – now, not sometime in the future, when everything will be perfect.

Learn Greek at Home During Quarantine

If you are interested in learning Greek but there are no classes taking place in your area, don’t be discouraged. Helinika, a platform dedicated to the Greek language, history, and culture, offers affordable Greek language lessons online. Learn Greek during Quarantine.

This Is Your Sign for Learning Greek

You have been debating whether you should start learning modern Greek and you constantly postpone it. Whatever the reason might be, here is the sign you were looking for. Start learning Greek today.

Greek Drama Ep.6: The Concepts of Hybris, Nemesis, and Catharsis

Hybris, nemesis, and catharsis are three important aspects of every ancient Greek tragedy. Hybris and nemesis were mentioned way before the birth of Greek theatre; we know the terms from ancient Greek mythology. And catharsis is a concept that was introduced in drama. But what is the meaning of these three theatrical terms?

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Hybris and Ancient Greek Drama | Pride and Injustice

The English word “hybris” derives from the Greek «ὕβρις». In modern Greek, the term is used in a way that can be translated as “insult” or “curse word”. But in ancient Greek, the term refers to an insult which was targeted towards gods and goddesses, rather than other humans. But how could a mortal offend a god or a goddess?

The easiest way an ancient Greek could manage to commit hybris, was by being excessively proud and overconfident. This is why the English word “hybris” is often translated as “excess pride”. Odysseus, for example, committed hybris when he started mocking Cyclops Polyphemous, after managing to blind him. Blinding him was an act of self-defense – it was the only way he could escape the island. But repeatedly making fun of him was unnecessary. Odysseus insulted Poseidon in this way, and the god of the sea punished him for his arrogance.

In ancient Greek theatre, the concept of hybris still revolved around excess pride and overconfidence but it also included other negative traits and actions. The gods and goddesses in ancient drama were presented as more sensitive and caring than in ancient Greek mythology. They also cared for the injustices towards humans.

For example, the tragedies of Oedipus and Antigone root back to an hybris that was committed by a human towards another human. Oedipus’ father had attacked a young boy, which enraged the gods. The entire family got stuck into a series of tragedies. In Antigone, the ruler Creon enrages the gods for being both arrogant and being cruel towards Antigone and her deceased brother, Polynices. Therefore, “hybris”, in the context of drama, can also be translated as “injustice”, “outrage”, or “immoral act”.

The necessity of hybris in ancient tragedy is therefore obvious. Tragic events would not be possible without an act of hybris. Hybris – either in the form of arrogance and pride or in the form of injustice- is the usual cause of every single tragedy. And from the stories that ancient tragedians narrated on stage, we can assume that pride and injustice are often connected – with acts of injustice being the result of excess pride. In other words, an arrogant and proud person is more likely to be unjust and, as a result, insult the gods and goddesses.

 

Nemesis and Ancient Greek Drama | Divine Punishment

Nemesis is the result of hybris. It derives from the Greek word «νέμεσις» that can be translated as “delivering justice”. That meant bringing good fortune to the virtuous and bad fortune to immoral people. Similar to the concept of karma. But, because the term “nemesis” was used predominantly in tragedies, the negative aspect persisted. “Nemesis” today is translated as “punishment” or “bad karma”.

It is important to note that the concept of nemesis has been personified. Goddess Nemesis, also called Rhamnousia, has been mentioned in many ancient texts, including Hesiod’s “Theogony”. She is the goddess who punishes the ones who commit hubris.

Just like hybris, nemesis is an important part of every ancient Greek tragedy. Without it, the tragic characters will never face their problems or deal with their inner demons. Nemesis – divine punishment- leads us to the final and most important concept of ancient Greek drama: catharsis.

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Catharsis and Ancient Greek Drama | Emotional Cleansing

Hybris and nemesis were two concepts that were present in ancient Greek myths. A hero or heroine would be blinded by his or her pride and they would be punished for it with a long period of bad luck. But ancient Greek theatre was born at a time when ancient Athenians were rethinking their old values and tried to construct a more sensitive and humanitarian society. Ancient Greek drama does not stop at nemesis. Punishment for the shake of punishment is too cruel. Instead, punishment should be a learning lesson for the person who receives it and anyone who witnesses it.

Catharsis is tragedy’s ultimate goal. The term derives from the Greek «κάθαρσις», which means “cleanse”. But it is mostly known for its metaphorical meaning – the “spiritual or emotional cleanse” that can be achieved through art. Catharsis is the reason why rich Athenians paid for the tickets of the financially struggling citizens. Every Athenian had to participate to “cleanse” their soul and be better citizens.

The term is attributed to Aristotle who used the metaphor of soul cleansing in his work “Poetics”. In tragedy, catharsis is experienced by both the play’s characters and the audience. The tragic characters who commit hybris and then receive nemesis, “cleanse” their mind and heart from all the negative emotions that led them to make unjust decisions or actions.

In Antigone, the tyrannical ruler of Thebes, Creon, sees the body of his diseased son and immediately regrets all his past decisions. The audience leaves knowing that, from now on, he will be an empathetic and caring leader. Having experienced tragedy, he will be able to get in other people’s shoes.

At the same time, the members of the audience of a tragic play can leave the theatre feeling “lighter”. They experienced intense negative emotions while watching the tragic characters’ misfortunes but, in the end, something positive comes out of it. Theatre acts as a form of psychotherapy. The viewers can resurface their suppressed emotions – jealousy, fear, regret, anger- and let them go. They exit the theatre with their emotions purified. And that is what catharsis is.

Greek Drama Ep.5: Antigone by Sophocles

Antigone by Sophocles is one of the most well-known ancient Greek theatrical plays. It belongs to a collection of tragedies – the Theban plays – since it takes place in the Greek city of Thebes. It was written by the great tragedian Sophocles and was presented at the theatrical competition of Dionysia in 441 BC. It is based on the myth of Oedipus but Sophocles manages to make the story even more tragic. It focuses on the subject of written vs. unwritten rules and absolute power.

Greek Drama Ep.4: Helen by Euripides

In 412 BC, the ancient Greek tragedian Euripides presented a trilogy of plays at the annual theatrical competition of Dionysia in Athens. One of those plays was Helen – inspired by the legend of Helen of Troy.

6 Random Things Greek People Do | Greek Culture Facts

Are you looking for some Greek culture facts? Today, we present to you six (6) random things Greek people do. From adding oregano on everything to saying one thing and meaning another, here are the most random facts about Greece and the Greeks.

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Random Things Only Greeks Do:

  1. Employees for Pumping Gas
  2. No Self-Service
  3. Enjoying a Glass of Plain Water
  4. Pedestrian Lanes= Decoration?
  5. Oregano on Everything
  6. Indirect Communication

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Greek Books to Learn Greek | Modern Greek Literature

One of the best ways to learn Greek is to immerse yourself in the language. When it comes to learning the modern Greek language, avoid limiting yourself to classical Greek literature. Here is a list of the best Greek books of modern Greek literature that will inspire you to learn Greek or improve your Greek skills. You can order these books in Greek (reaching B1 level is essential) but you can find some of them translated in your native language.

Greek Literature and Modern Greek Authors

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Best Greek Books:

  • Το οριζόντιο ύψος και άλλες αφύσικες ιστορίες – Αργύρης Χιόνης
  • Το καπλάνι της βιτρίνας – Άλκη Ζέη
  • Η μωβ ομπρέλα – Άλκη Ζέη
  • Ένα παιδί μετράει τ’ άστρα – Μενέλαος Λουντέμης
  • H φόνισσα – Αλέξανδρος Παπαδιαμάντης
  • Το αμάρτημα της μητρός μου – Γιώργος Βιζυηνός
  • Πάπισσα Ιωάννα – Εμμανουήλ Ροΐδης

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Greek Golden Age Cinema: Best Greek Movies & Actors

With Greece being the birthplace of drama and theater, it comes as no surprise that Greek cinema has a long history. Its roots take us back to the early 20th century. But what comes first to mind when thinking of Greek cinema and Greek films, is the “golden age” of the 1950s and 1960s. In Greek, this era is called «ασπρόμαυρος κινηματογράφος» (black-and-white cinema) or «παλιός καλός κινηματογράφος» (good old cinema).

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History of Greek Cinema | Cinematography in Greece

Cinematography in Greece started in 1914 with the film “Golfo” (Γκόλφω). It was written and directed by Konstantinos Bachatoris, who later became the founder of “Athini Films” (Αθήνη Φιλμς), the first Greek film company. “Golfo” was a silent film that could be described as a Cinderella-type story that takes place in the 19th century Greek countryside.

The film was produced again in 1955 by the legendary film company “Finos Film” (Φίνος Φιλμ). This time, it was directed by Orestis Laskos and it gained a lot of popularity. Due to its success, many bucolic-themed movies were filmed at that time.

Between 1914 and Greece’s “golden age cinema”, many more films were produced. Some notable mentions are “Daphnis and Chloe” (Δάφνις και Χλόη) from 1931, which was the first film to ever depict a nude scene in Europe, and “The Shepherdess’s Lover” (Ο Αγαπητικός της Βοσκοπούλας) from 1932.

The best years for Greek cinematography started in 1942, with the formation of the production company “Finos Films”. It was founded by Filopimin Finos and became the biggest film production company in southeast Europe. But which are some of the best Greek films from that era?

Best Vintage Greek Movies | Best Greek Films

A notable film from that era is definitely “The Counterfeit Coin” (Η Κάλπικη Λίρα) from 1955. Directed by George Tzavellas, this Greek comedy-drama was included in the top-10 Greek films by the Pan-Hellenic Union of Cinema Critics in 2006. The movie follows the journey of a counterfeit coin – from the day it got engraved to the last person who found it on his way. It shows the way it influenced each person’s life, revealing the power dynamics of the Greek society at that time. Important Greek actors and actresses such as Dimitris Horn and Ellie Lambeti played in the film. These two had an international career.

The 1962 film Electra, based on the ancient Greek play with the same name, is another important film of that time. It was written, produced, and directed by Michael Cacoyannis and it was nominated for best foreign language film in the 1963 Academy Awards. It has won various awards in numerous film festivals in Mexico, Berlin, France and in other parts of the world.  

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The Greek movie “Amaxaki” (Το Αμαξάκι) from 1957 was not only a big commercial success but it also represented Greece in the Czech Film Festival.An important Greek actor, Orestis Makris, played a coachman in the picturesque Plaka neighborhood of Athens who sees his life turn upside down once people start using cars.

Some of the biggest commercial successes resulted from the collaboration of the Greek director Alekos Sakellarios with Finos Films. “The Auntie from Chicago” (Η Θεία απ’ το Σικάγο), the “Maiden’s Cheek” (Το ξύλο βγήκε απ’ τον παράδεισο), and the “Hurdy-Gurdy” (Λατέρνα, Φτώχεια, και Φιλότιμο) were very successful in the 1950s’ and Greek tv-channels still add them to their regular program.

Other commercially successful films were “Alice in the Navy” (η Αλίκη στο Ναυτικό), “The Teacher with the Golden Hair” (Η Δασκάλα με τα Ξανθά Μαλλιά), and “The Downfall” (Ο Κατήφορος). These movies featured some of the most well-known Greek actors and actresses of that time, including Zoe Laskari, Jenny Karezi, Mimis Photopoulos, Aliki Vougiouklaki, Dimitris Papamichael, and Georgia Vasileiadou.

Finally, there are many 1950s and 1960s Greeks films that won the hearts of the critics and the viewers were not necessarily produced by a Greek company, such as Finos Films, but were either filmed in Greece and/or featured Greek actors, directors, and script writers. Such examples are the critically acclaimed films “Never on Sunday” (Ποτέ την Κυριακή) by Jules Dassin, featuring Melina Merkouri, and “Zorbas the Greek” (Αλέξης Ζορμπάς) that was produced and distributed by 20th Century Fox.

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Greek Actors and Actresses of the Greek Golden Age Cinema

  • Ellie Lambeti
  • Dimitris Horn
  • Katina Paxinou
  • Irene Papas
  • Melina Merkouri
  • Alexis Minotis
  • Anna Synodinou
  • Petros Fyssoun
  • Antigoni Valakou
  • Alekos Alexandrakis
  • Jenny Karezi
  • Aliki Vougiouklaki
  • Dinos Iliopoulos
  • Thanasis Veggos
  • Mimis Fotopoulos
  • Kostas Hatzichristos
  • Rena Vlachopoulou
  • Maro Kontou

Understanding the Greek Culture | The Greek Culture Today

Can you measure the Greek culture? What does it mean to be Greek? What are Greeks like?

Although we live in the era of convergence and globalization, there is a call to protect local cultures and maintain a certain level of cultural diversity. If we want to protect our cultural identities, it is crucial to understand what our cultures actually are. Understanding cultures is also essential for anyone who wants to introduce products and concepts in a foreign market or working in a multicultural environment.

Understanding the Modern Greek/ Hellenic Culture

Today, we will try to understand the Greek culture based on different metrics and examples. Before we get started, it is important to clarify that we perceive the modern Greek culture as a continuation of the ancient Greek culture, with the difference that it has been influenced throughout the years from the cultures of the Frankish states, the Ottoman Empire, the Bavarian and Danish monarchies etc.

The Greek Culture as a High-Context Culture: Communicating Without Words

In a past video it was mentioned that Greeks place non-verbal communication at a higher level than others. We could safely say that Greek people are masters at decoding indirect speech and body language. Anthropological and cross-cultural studies agree with that statement.

In his 1959 book “The Silent Language”, American anthropologist Edward T. Hall introduced some new concepts that define culture. One way of categorizing cultures is by dividing them into high-context and low context cultures.

High-context cultures use a lot of hand gestures. People like maintaining eye contact and pay close attention to other peoples’ posture and facial expressions. It is not about what is being said, it is about what is not said.

On the other hand, people in low-context cultures prefer speaking in a direct and clear way. They are not making a lot of gestures and rarely pay close attention to others’ facial expressions.

It comes as no surprise that Hall places the Greek culture in the first category. If you have ever visited Greece, you should have already noticed that people speak with their hands and always try to maintain eye contact when they speak to you. It is also important to note that, if you annoy a Greek person, they will most likely give you many cues. If you don’t notice them, don’t be surprised if you see them getting mad at you all of a sudden!

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The Greek Culture as a Collectivistic Culture: It Is About “Us”

The American anthropologist also distinguishes cultures based on whether they are individualistic or collectivistic. Most western countries, such as the United States of America, are considered to be highly individualistic. People in these cultures strive to be independent from an early age. At the same time, they might find it hard to take decisions with others, maintain strong relationships over the years, and they are more susceptible to loneliness.

Greece is on the other side of the spectrum, since it is recognized as a collectivistic culture. Greek people love sharing experiences with others and maintain close relationships with their families throughout their lives. They like sharing food and they are less likely to travel alone. There is no shame in asking for help and independence is perceived differently than in the US or other individualistic countries.

If you ever visit Greece and want to immerse yourself in the culture, try ordering food with the group you are dining with. You can order a bunch of different dishes and try a bit of everything. If you are visiting alone, don’t be surprised if the locals approach you and invite you to join them. Philoxenia (φιλοξενία) is the Greek tradition of hospitality. Its roots go back to ancient times and it requires people to be welcoming towards strangers.

The Greek Culture as a Balanced Masculine Society with Feminine Characteristics

The Dutch social psychologist Geert Hofstede has also contributed immensely to the study of national cultures. He came up with many different cultural dimensions, including masculinity vs. femininity.

Masculine cultures, such as Japan and the United States, value success and do not view competition as something negative. People raised in these cultures learn the importance of standing out of the crowd and becoming winners.

On the other hand, feminine countries, such as most Scandinavian countries, strive at improving the quality of life of every person, instead of being considered “the best country in the world”. Characteristics that are considered feminine, such as being nurturing and caring, are valued more than being competitive and ambitious.

Greek culture ranks somewhere in the middle, maintaining a balance between masculine and feminine characteristics, but it is considered a bit more masculine than feminine. Greeks are very proud of their heritage. Successful people, such as Aristotle Onassis, a Greek shipping magnate who was one of richest men to have ever lived, are admired.

At the same time, there is distinction between “confidence” and “overconfidence”, “ambition” and “overambition”. Since ancient times, Greeks have been referring to «ευγενής άμιλλα», that is often translated as “fair play”. Although Greeks are interested in winning and competing, it is very important to be ethical and not “step on top of others” to get on top. The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had a theory that the ancient Greek spirit of fair play led the Greeks in creating “their great civilization”, as he said.

Other Dimensions of the Greek Culture

Hofstede has come up with many more dimensions for defining a culture, such as power distance, uncertainty avoidance, indulgence, and long-term orientation.

Greece has intermediate scores in indulgence, meaning that it has a healthy relationship between restrain and enjoying life, and in long-term orientation, meaning that it maintains some links with its past but looks towards the future.

Indeed, you will see Greeks enjoying nice meals most days of the week. Drinking red wine is often recommended by doctors to protect the heart and, according to statistics, the Greeks are the most sexually active people in the world. At the same time, there are some clear limits between indulgence and over-indulgence.

For example, drinking alcohol in Greece is enjoyed by most adults, however, our drinking culture is very different than of other nations. Drinking a little bit on a regular base and enjoying it with friends is preferred over “boozing” and getting black-out drunk every Saturday night.

This balance can be explained by the ancient Greek quote «(παν) μέτρον άριστον», which is often translated as “all in good measure”. This might be the quote that acts as a compass in each Greek person’s life. Enjoying life but not loosing control is the most common piece of advice we get from our caregivers and teachers in our childhood and teenage years.

The cultural dimension that is the most unbalanced is that of uncertainty avoidance. The Greek culture ranks as the most avoidant in the world when it comes to uncertainty. This dimension explains how different nations manage anxiety and react to threatening or unknown situations.

It is worth mentioning that during the years of the Ottoman Occupation but also after the Greek War of Independence, Greeks had and have faced a great number of wars, political instabilities, violent regime changes, national divisions, civil wars, and financial crises. Greeks have recently faced a great uncertainty: the Greek government-debt crisis in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008, which created a social, cultural, and humanitarian crisis.

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