I had one the absolute happiest times of my life these past two months in Serbia... the air, the greenmarket, the architecture, the friendly and social people, the air of relaxation (after routine 80 hour work weeks in the US). Serbia is a wonderful place. I just wish it was happier for its citizens.
According to a 2004 study (ok it's dated and Serbia has come a long way since 2004) of global happiness, Mexicans were the second happiest nation on the planet. Surveyed citizens said they were (a) happy and (b) satisfied with the way their lives were going. America was #15 on the list, Slovenia was #38, Croatia was #42 and Serbia slunk in at #61. Better than Zimbabwe, but hardly impressive.
If you don't know much about Mexico, you may be surprised to find it has more in common with Serbia than you think. People don't have much money (except for the uber-rich), there's been quite a bit of government and police corruption, in the past the populace were little more than downtrodden peasants crushed by various outside empires (notably Spain) for eons, cities have bad air pollution in part from old cars, extended families often live together (grandparents, parents, kids), Mexicans have a sense of color and artistry I've often seen in Serbia, they appreciate trumpets in Mariachi bands, etc. OK, so they are Catholic and live in a mostly warmer place, obviously not everything is similar to Serbia.
The key to me is, Mexicans are self-professedly SO much more happy than Americans are. You might think a very wealthy, democratic, educated, less-corrupt, never-conquered country would have happier citizens than its very poor neighbor. You would be wrong.
Which leads me to think personal happiness is not only about your wealth, your government, your police, your educational status... it's partially about your attitude.
The funny thing is, when I first saw this happiness study, I expected to find Serbia far higher up on the list. Why? Partly because my Serbian step-daughter had the best trip of her life when she went to Mexico on a school trip run by her American High School a couple of years ago. She came back glowing. "It reminded me of Serbia!" she said, "It felt just like being back home." For a homesick kid from Sombor, that's quite a statement.
Now you can (and I bet some people will) respond to this post with a "Life in Serbia is much harder/worse than you know..." attitude.
Yes, life in Serbia is not easy. But, neither is life in Mexico. The difference is when you meet a Serb acquaintance on the street, and ask them how they are, a stream of complaints will spout from their lips. Money is bad, health is bad, etc, etc. Only if you ask them many questions, pushing and prodding, will you hear about the good things in their lives. If you meet a Mexican acquaintance walking down the street who has the same lack of money, the same family squashed into a little flat, etc., and you ask them how things are going, they will smile happily. And tell you about the good stuff.