Why aren't the French happy? They live in one of the most envied countries by foreigners, yet they can't seem to find happiness.

Happiness is precisely our conversation topic this week in my French conversation group. You can practice your French up to 7 times per week with other motivated learners to gain confidence in speaking and express yourself more naturally in French. 


So, why are the French unhappy? To talk about this topic, I will rely on 3 articles: the first by Anaïs Huet for Europe 1, the second by Sophie Viguier-Vinson for Human Sciences, and the last one by Sébastian Compagnon for Le Parisien.

Frédéric Lenoir, a philosopher and sociologist, makes a pertinent observation about happiness in France. The French seem to be a people happy individually, but unhappy collectively. How can we understand this paradox?

According to Lenoir, happiness and unhappiness are never absolute, but the balance between the two depends on our outlook on life. And where the problem lies is that the French are among the most pessimistic people in the world. Individually, each person may feel happy, experience moments of joy. Yet, collectively, we have the impression that everything is going wrong in our country, while France is one of the most envied, most visited countries, with a solid social system.

Lenoir talks about a sort of "collective masochism", a tendency to deprecate ourselves as a society despite the many reasons to be proud to be French.

Lenoir also notes a tendency to critique, inherited from philosophers like Descartes and Voltaire. This critique can make us more aware of the problems, but it can also make us lose sight of the positive aspects of our life. To remedy this, Lenoir recommends meditation, not in the sense of an intense or religious practice, but rather as moments of breathing throughout the day.

A moment to return to oneself, to step back from one's thoughts, one's mind, one's emotions, which are often a source of unhappiness.

Let's now move on to the article by Sophie Viguier-Vinson for Human Sciences. She presents the work of Gaël Brulé, a sociologist at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. According to Brulé, the feeling that our destiny eludes us, that we are not masters of our choices, contributes to the malaise of the French. He points to a very hierarchical political, administrative, and educational system that gives individuals the feeling of being trapped in structures over which they have no control.

Brulé emphasizes the importance of being able to contribute to decisions to be happy and optimistic. Indeed, the feeling of having an impact on one's environment and collective decisions contributes to a feeling of personal satisfaction. He also suggests that declaring oneself very happy in France can be seen as a failure of thought, a lack of critical thinking. This is an interesting idea that can help explain why the French may seem unhappy despite often very good living conditions.

Let's continue with the article by Sébastian Compagnon for Le Parisien. The journalist relies on the work of the Fabrique Spinoza, a think tank that has committed to creating a "quarterly indicator of the happiness of the French". Their results reveal that despite the fact that 56% of French people consider themselves "happy", a large part of the population describes itself as being "collectively unhappy". To attempt to explore this dichotomy, the Fabrique Spinoza has developed a series of questions focused on individual happiness, the perception of our environment, and our reaction to happiness.

Among the factors that contribute to well-being, the French mention housing, their environment, health, and relationships with their surroundings. However, happiness is not equally distributed across the country. The happiest people are those with the highest incomes, aged over 66, and living in the South West, while the unhappiest are young people under 24, low-income employees, inactive people, inhabitants of the North-East.

A troubling trend is also highlighted: the French suffer from a deep lack of trust in others. This lack of trust is a major source of unhappiness, as is concern for the future of the world, job security, and a general feeling of insecurity.

In conclusion, we see that French malaise seems to stem from a complex mixture of factors. On the one hand, there is a tendency to critique and pessimism that can obscure our view of positive things. On the other hand, there is a feeling of lack of control over our destiny, amplified by rigid and hierarchical societal structures. And finally, there is a lack of trust in others that leads to a certain defiance

and fear of the future. Yet, there is also much joy and satisfaction to be found in our daily life.


Vocabulary Exercise: Happiness and the French: