Culture

Chronic Dissatisfaction

One of my favorite scenes from any movie (Vicky Christina Barcelona by Woody Allen) is what first introduced me to the idea of chronic dissatisfaction:

NARRATOR (V.O.): It was only Cristina, as the last days of summer expired, who began
to experience an old, familiar stirring…a growing restlessness that she dreaded, but recognized only too well.

NARRATOR (V.O.): Finally summoning her resolve, one
evening after dinner, she made an announcement that surprised everyone.
CRISTINA: I mean, I, I, I, I don’t want what Vicky has. I don’t want what my parents had. I don’t want what I had before I came here. I mean, I know that. But I, I, I know I can’t live like this forever.
MARIA ELENA: ¿Te lo dije o no te lo dije? (Did I tell you or not?)
JUAN ANTONIO: Vale, vale. (Okay, okay.)

Maria Elena leans against the counter and rubs her face agitatedly.

JUAN ANTONIO: What do you want, Cristina?
CRISTINA: I want something different.
JUAN ANTONIO: What?
CRISTINA: I’m, I-I-I don’t know. Not this.
JUAN ANTONIO: There is no answer, Cristina. There is no, there is no single answer.

Maria Elena turns toward Juan Antonio and gestures angrily at him.

MARIA ELENA: Juan Antonio, que no lo entiendes. Que ya ha conseguido lo que quería. Quiere otra cosa. Que esto ya no le basta. Es como una enfermedad, que nunca le va a bastar con nada. (Juan Antonio, don’t you understand, she’s gotten what she wanted. She wants something else. This isn’t enough for her. It’s like a sickness, that nothing is ever going to be enough for her.)
JUAN ANTONIO: Maria Elena, Maria Elena.
CRISTINA: Please…don’t get so upset. Please. And can you speak English? I can’t understand you.
JUAN ANTONIO: A ver, habla inglés, por favor.
MARIA ELENA: Nunca se va a conformar con nada, esta niña. (This girl will never be
satisfied with anything.)
JUAN ANTONIO: María Elena, habla inglés, para que te pueda entender. (Speak English so she can understand you.)
MARIA ELENA: Sabía que nos la ibas a jugar, sabía que nos la ibas a jugar y nos la has jugado. Cómo lo sabía! (I knew you would play us. I knew you would play us. And you played us. I knew it!)

Maria Elena slams her hand down on the counter.

JUAN ANTONIO: Ya, vale, vale…
MARIA ELENA: ¡Cómo lo sabía, cómo lo sabía! (I knew it! I knew it!)
JUAN ANTONIO: Ya. Maria Elena. Por fav– Speak English, please so she can understand it, all right? Ya.

Maria Elena sobs. Maria Elena wags her finger at Crisina.

MARIA ELENA (to Cristina): Chronic dissatisfaction. That’s what you have. Chronic dissatisfaction.
JUAN ANTONIO: Ya, ya.
MARIA ELENA: Big sickness. Big sickness.
JUAN ANTONIO: Eh, no es eso, María Elena, no es eso. Es simplemente… Es simplemente…Mírame. (That’s not it, Maria Elena. That’s not it. It’s simply that… Look at me.)

Juan Antonio clasps Maria Elena by the chin.

JUAN ANTONIO: It’s simply that…

Maria Elena looks at Cristina.

MARIA ELENA (to Cristina): How can you…? Do you know how much we love you?
CRISTINA: Yeah. And I love you both.
MARIA ELENA: No, you don’t!
CRISTINA: Yes, I do.
MARIA ELENA: No, you don’t!
CRISTINA: It has nothing to do with that!
MARIA ELENA: Niña de mierda, niña de mierda. (You spoiled little shit.
Spoiled little shit.)

According to the OECD Better Life Index, Germans are less satisfied than Americans in the categories of housing, income, jobs, civic engagement, health (?!?), life satisfaction, and safety. Before coming here, I lumped Germans in my mind into a group of stress-free, satisfied Europeans, but I guess I was wrong to assume. I tend to suffer from chronic dissatisfaction due mostly to the many expectations I dream up in my head. But in the United States I’m used to running into several people during my day who appear to be satisfied, and that raises my mood quite a bit. Whether the Germans really are less satisfied (perhaps they have higher expectations) or are just more frank about their discontent, I’ve noticed that the people I see walking around every day don’t look as happy as people in the U.S.A. (“The land of so many societal ills!” How could this be?) I wonder if it’s because in the U.S.A. many believe that only a lucky few make it to the top and achieve happiness, so one might as well be happy with his current lot. Meanwhile here many believe that their quality of life is in their own hands. If this theory is true, then Germans are putting a lot of pressure on themselves (as are many chronically dissatisfied Americans like myself), and maybe we should all just calm down, look around, and see that life is not so bad right now…Any maybe smile sometimes. : )

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