What's the secret to happiness in Buenos Aires?


Feb 6, 2008
So I've been asking myself this question a lot recently.

The wiki definition for the 'Standard of Living' is the quality and quantity of goods and services available to people, and the way these goods and services are distributed within a population.

The wiki definition for 'Quality of life' is the degree of well-being felt by an individual or group of people.. It consists of two components: physical (e.g. health, diet) and psychological (e.g. stress, worry, pleasure) and other positive or negative emotional states.

In an ideal world you would have the best of both worlds but unfortunately the two are often at complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Happiness and success are also potentially worlds apart.

When I was growing up the following rather simplified guidelines to achieving happiness and success applied:

* Study hard in high school so you get enough points to get into a good College/Uni
* Study hard to graduate from said good College/Uni so you can get a good job
* Get a good secure job with prospects to advance so you can be 'successful'
* Work hard and try and save as much as possible so you can eventually settle down
* Get on the property ladder and keep climbing cos 'there's gold in them there hills'
* The better you are at this, the bigger your house will be.
* The bigger the house, the more cars, gadgets and toys for the kids.

To reach this nirvana for many people (not all) sometime looks like this.

Let me introduce the Sucker Family.

Mr Gaylord Sucker commutes 2 hours and works 10 hours a day in a high stress environment. Half the time, he makes it home in time to tuck the kids into bed, half the time he doesn't.
Missus Sucker works locally but juggles dropping the kids at expensive day care and running her own business. The kids are spoiled with all the clothes, toys, gadgets and everything and anything they need except enough attention from their exhausted parents.

The family spend 2 weeks in LottsaFunland each year but Mr S is constantly checking his Blackberry and is called away to conference calls 2 to 3 times a day. Mrs S has to check up on her business by phoning her liason for long conversations 3 times a day and checking on emails in the evening. The kids have a great time but the parents find it difficult to relax while juggling the work demands and keeping the kids happy.

15 years of this continues and seems to fly by and they move twice into bigger better homes. Mr S is now the proud owner of a top of the range blue BMW and Mrs S has an identical red one. Mr S is a bit burnt out but the kids still need to go thru college so he must persist. The kids have become a bit of a handful and ungratefully resent Mr and Mrs S's lack of quality time over the years. Rebellious outbursts are frequent. They rarely eat dinner together anymore and when they do get together, arguments typically ensue.

With the downturn in the global economy Mr S gets laid off but with a decent redundancy package there's no immediate need for alarm. Mr S starts to remember what it was like NOT to dread Monday mornings and wants to spend more time with kids, but they are now grown up and indifferent to his newly rekindled interest.

Mrs S's business also takes a nose dive and stress levels in the home rise as she is now the sole bread winner. Mrs S's mother visits but this only adds to the stress as she never got along with Mr S and they are not on civil terms. Mr and Mrs S wonder where the years went and how, even though they have all the material possessions anybody could want, they wonder why the family is not quite 'a Unit' and happiness has somehow eluded them.

Best case scenario - With a bit of luck they all live long and healthy but not necessarily happily ever after. Thankfully my own story is far removed from this nightmare, but it is something I have observed in friends and colleagues too many times.

Alternate case study - I've seen entire families here in Argentina (on or close to the poverty line) - grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren sitting around an Asado (BBQ) on the side of the road, who look more family functional, happier and healthier than the messed up wealthy family of 'The Suckers' above.

Being part of the rat race facilitates a certain standard of living but at what cost to your quality of life?

How do you define your 'REAL' Quality of Life and Standard of Living?
What REALLY makes you happy?
Yes - there's nobody else here - I am taking to YOU?!!

Answers on a postcard or here to Paddy in BA

wonderful post. the ´sucker family ideal´ is my main reason for leaving london, i have always felt i was against the grain, not by choice but by default.

there is a magic to the argentines who have nothing on a superficial/ material level perhaps, but in fact are holding all the cards.
I'm sorry, I totally see your point, but I think it's a worrying instinct among Americans travelling in Latin America to glorify poverty. To think that somehow those people by the side of the road are living a more "authentic," "real," and "happy" life than people in the United States. Perhaps they are, but what about the nights they can't afford to eat? Sounds like the Suckers had it pretty bad, but that doesn't mean that the asado people didn't too (and it's pretty hard to find happiness below the poverty line). I think that as middle-class Americans, we are much more familiar with the first evil (the Suckers) than the second (the side of the road), and the grass is always greener... Just because having everything doesn't bring you happiness, doesn't mean having nothing does.
Cath said:
. . . I think it's a worrying instinct among Americans travelling in Latin America to glorify poverty. . . .
I don't think that "Quickroute", the OP, is an American, Cath.

I would hope, however, that all of us -- Americans, Irishmen, Argentines -- would help the poor with our time and our money.
Great post Quickroute - If i'm not mistaken we went on a night out with you in Villa del Parque last year?
Ok, duly corrected. I'll change that to “an instinct among residents of relatively wealthy countries travelling abroad.”
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Well it would be interesting to follow the two cases of the above mentioned US & Argentine family to see who truly feels happier and more fulfilled with their lives, but i reckon it would be the Argentine one, even if i am talking from the perspective of a resident of a relatively wealthy country travelling abroad. I think it would make sense that people with less posessions are generally happier, but most people with money will never know.
Cath if you want to accuse something of romanticising poverty then take a look at this film - Koyaanisqatsi I'm sure you'd have a field day.
Hmm, I would argue that they just feel different types of unhappiness. I think living at or below the poverty line gives rise to a lot more stress (constantly trying to figure out how to make ends meet, etc) whereas living a life centered around possessions would bring about more depression.

But I should also reveal that I come at this from a very particular viewpoint. My mother is almost completely blind, having lost her sight in her thirties (I am partially sighted myself). Whenever I tell people about this, after expressing due sympathy, the inevitably say something like "but she must be able to make up for it with her other senses." There is this myth (and it has been proven a myth multiple times) that blind and disabled people are somehow compensated for their lack of sight be being, lets say, very wise (Oedipus) or having super-sonic hearing (Hollywood). In fact, my mother's life simply became much more difficult when she went blind, and her hearing didn't get any better. This isn't to say that she isn't happy, but she was happy beforehand as well. Being disabled simply sucks, and, having worked with impoverished people for many years, it seems to me that being impoverished often sucks as well.

And I don't say any of this to be cynical (and I'm not trying to bash you Qiuckroute, because I know what you mean). But I think the more "relatively" rich folk tell themselves that everything is ok, that poor and disabled people are just fine and, in fact, happier or wiser than they, the less likely they are to offer help (thank you RWS!).
Quickroute has in interesting story and Cath makes a good point. In both cases there are different stress in life and if you view happiness as having a close family together eating together..then there is your happiness meter. In life there are different meters of happiness and I think you need to look at all different factors.
The story of the affluent family is surely exaggerated for dramatic effect. Of course there is some truth to the idea that relentless ambition and materialism are unlikely to produce happiness. The family the writer describes seem to exist solely to make money and consume. After many years here I know plenty of Argentines who work extremely long hours, who have a great deal of responsibility, who are constantly on their cell phones, who struggle to maintain a home in the city and one in a gated community in Pilar or somewhere similar. They too are ambitious and their lifestyle is the envy of many less affluent Argentines. I also know some of the less well off in Argentina and I can tell you that they are NOT happy with their lives. There is never enough money to pay bills, epecially now with high inflation, they often work long hours at grunge jobs, they travel to work in overcrowded, run down and unsafe trains without heat or air conditioning. They go to poor public hospitals when they are sick (forget about preventive treatment), they have teeth pulled when they deteriorate - forget crowns and implants. They are poorly educated with little knowledge of the world, easy to manipulate and exploit. Take a look around you - they are everywhere, especially when you get outside the Expat Protection Zone of Barrio Norte and Palermo. They are far from happy. It's a mistake to romanticize poverty. The poor are humans with a right to education, a reasonable salary, decent health care and dignity. They know that there is something better out there but they don't have the means to attain it.