The country that loves being sad

The country that loves being sad
PHOTO: Pixabay

The Portuguese are content with their discontentment, and, in an odd but enlightening way, actually enjoy it.

As an American, I've been inculcated with the importance of being happy - or at least pretending to be happy - at all costs.

It's an ethos epitomized by the smiley face emoji, which is said to have been invented in the US in 1963, and empty expressions like "have a nice day".

In Portugal, no one tells you to have a nice day.

No one particularly cares if you have a nice day, because chances are they're not having a nice day either.

If you ask a Portuguese person how they're doing, the most enthusiastic reply you can expect is mais ou menos (so so).

Portugal's culture of melancholy is hard to miss. You see it etched on people's sombre expressions - this is no Thailand, known as the Land of Smiles - and even in the statues that occupy prime real estate in Lisbon's public squares.

In most countries, the men (and it's almost always men) honoured in such places are macho generals. In Portugal, it's moody poets.

Yes, Portugal is a sad land, ranking 93rd of 157 countries (just behind Lebanon), according to the UN's latest World Happiness Report. But don't pity the Portuguese.

They're content with their discontentment, and, in an odd but enlightening way, actually enjoy it.

It's easy to assume that the Portuguese are masochists, but if you spend some time here, as I did recently, you quickly realise that the Portuguese have much to teach us about the hidden beauty, and joy, in sadness.

Portugal's "joyful sadness" is encapsulated in a single word: saudade. No other language has a word quite like it.

It is untranslatable, every Portuguese person assured me, before proceeding to translate it.

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