The Ancient Greek Secret to a More Social Way of Life
Greece is a country in turmoil.
Banks were shut down and their economy’s best hope is now another bailout. Their politicians are notoriously corrupt and in turn, Greek citizens seek out any loopholes to avoid paying taxes. There are pickpockets everywhere and anarchists wreak havoc in Athens.
And I just spent my last two weeks of vacation there.
However, from the outside, everything looked like business as usual. Restaurants had no empty tables and the shops were bustling. I observed that no matter how bad things had become, Greece was still one of the friendliest and most social cultures in the world.
To understand how they maintain this attitude, you must first understand their mentality and social habits.
But not everybody is so nice in the world
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel for my careers. Before ending up in Greece, a client flew me to London and then I headed to Paris to continue my vacation.
Socially, London was like Boston or New York. People put up a reserved, distant exterior. They’re not overtly rude but they won’t go out of their way to say hello. Once you push past their initial defenses, they start to open up.
In my opinion (and supported by friends who live there), this mentality explains why the drinking culture in London is so prevalent. Everyone goes to the pub after work and uses liquid courage to become more social.
In Paris, I’m sorry to say that many people fit the “rude” stereotype. I’m not saying they are arrogant, but they act like it during initial meetings. Even when starting conversations in French, they were quite cold to me as an American. And even between French strangers, there’s a tendency to keep to yourself.
When I got to Greece, I felt like I entered the twilight zone. Everybody was drinking some social kool-aid which encouraged them to talk to everyone. And I mean everyone.
It’s weird to be anti-social in Greece
In Greece, when someone walks by you, you greet them. It’s even seen as impolite in many places to pass someone without saying hello.
If you’re eating lunch outside on your patio and someone strolls by, you invite them over. Literally, when someone says the equivalent of “bon appetite” the required response is, “Come join us!” No one takes you up on it but it’s a polite gesture.
Go out any night of the week and you will see every café packed with people. This is true even in the small towns, not just cities. You’ll go out at 10 PM and it feels like the entire population is outdoors eating together.
These social experiences are vital to the Greek culture. They’re moments when you get together with friends and family and talk for hours. Restaurants don’t expect you to leave — you can stay the entire night without anyone pressuring you to move on.
This was incredible to see. These people could only take out 60 Euros a day from the bank during the crisis. Instead of spending money elsewhere, they chose to spend quality time with friends and family. They valued that time too much to give it up, even in the worst of conditions.
A healthy view on socializing
When I hung out with my family in Greece, they couldn’t comprehend the need for my job. Socializing with others is deeply rooted in Greek culture, ingrained from birth.
Because of this, it feels like everyone is more socially adjusted. Every Greek person I talked to could hold interesting, dynamic conversation with ease. They loved talking politics, philosophy, history, and other thought-provoking topics.
During a train ride to Athens, we shared a cabin with a young guy from the island of Crete and his German cousin. What started as simple small talk ended up as a fascinating four-hour long discussion.
We began by talking about the economic situation. This led us to subjects such as human rights, human struggles, introspection, personal growth, and the Greek mentality. I was impressed by the eloquence and knowledge of my new friends, and I was shocked to find out they were only 19 years old.
After revealing what I did for work, I asked the Greek guy how he’d become such a strong conversationalist (especially in a non-native language!). He admitted that he actually used to be shy and riddled with anxiety. But with the help of his friends and finding a hobby that put him in front of people (street magic), he grew to feel confident in social situations.
In their culture, your friends are there to help with your social and romantic struggles. They don’t make fun of you or think it’s weird that you want to meet girls. They encourage you. They become your support system. You don’t have to go to a professional.
He told me, “We see being social as our lifeblood. We are born with people and we thrive off human connection. We grow and feel alive with others.”
This is the secret that every Greek understands. That you must view talking to people as the healthiest mode of self-expression. If you don’t see it as shameful, others won’t, either.
And it’s because at the root of Greek social habits is genuine curiosity. They want to learn and understand more about the lives of others. They want to share controversial opinions, debate, get personal, and grow from this knowledge. Unsurprisingly, this comes from the civilization credited with the birth of western philosophy.
What if the rest of the world adopted this mentality?
It’s appalling to think that talking to strangers in America is much more taboo. It’s seen as wrong and creepy — especially when it’s a man talking to a new woman.
But what if our culture had a new approach to socializing? Where we didn’t talk to people just to get something out of them, but to genuinely know them?
I firmly believe that this one idea has the power to drastically change our lives by helping us to:
- Cultivate more empathy. Countless studies show that communicating with more people, especially those outside your own race, builds empathy. While Greece does have an “I have to take care of myself because no one else will” mentality, I’ve found that people don’t actively want others to suffer.
Create an abundance of strong friendships. The more people you talk to, the more chances you have for making long-lasting friends.
My 71-year-old aunt in Greece still goes out with two groups of friends every week. She has an incredibly sharp wit and attributes it to maintaining a rigorous social life. She told me that on her birthday this year, 85 people called her. 85! Not texted, not emailed, but actually spoke with her on the phone. That’s insane.
Obviously, not everyone needs or wants so many friends. But having the ability to meet lots of people in order to find your true friends is what matters.
- Develop and refine social skills. The more people you talk to, the more varied personalities you encounter. You discover new subjects you’re interested in. You learn how to discuss a wide variety of subjects with passion. You sharpen your social skills to the point where you can engage and relate to almost anyone in any situation.
Build better relationships by finding the right people. When you don’t meet a lot of people, you often just settle for whoever you do meet, regardless if they’re a good fit for you. You don’t have many connections so it’s human nature to hold onto the few you do have. This is especially true in romance.
But if you have lots of opportunities for connections, you evaluate relationships more critically. You aren’t desperate to hold onto any single person. You’re more selective. You can focus on the people who you have a healthy, valuable relationship with. You go from a scarcity mentality to a confident one.
Become comfortable with your wants, needs, and intentions. Most of us see people in our lives we would love to talk to. But we let our fears or shame prevent us from going after what we want. This only reinforces those negative emotions, tells us we’re not good enough, and leads to massive frustration. That eventually snowballs into loneliness and depression.
By putting yourself out there, you’re proving to yourself that many people will enjoy your company. You’re becoming in-tune with your core needs. You’re showing yourself that you are strong enough and valuable enough as a person. This produces a healthy, confident mindset.
Have more sex and love. Romantic relationships are primarily different from other relationships due to intimacy. You don’t sleep with your true friends or family (hopefully). By meeting more of the right people and getting comfortable with your intentions – you will end up having more sex.
According to the Durex Sexual Wellbeing Survey, Greeks have more sex weekly than any other country in the world. They’re also the 5th most sexually satisfied country – largely contributed to their comfort in discussing and expressing their sexuality. Divorce rates in Greece are also among the lowest in all of Europe. I don’t think this is all a coincidence.
My hope for a more connected future
What I’m trying to hit home is, we have so much to learn from the thriving social life that is integral to Greek culture. And it’s possible to implement it in any country in the world.
I’ve experienced this firsthand due to my father – the friendliest Greek-American you’ll ever meet. When I was younger, I was nervous when he approached random people to talk to them. He’d chat with moms with their children, people in line at the store, bank tellers, cab drivers, waiters, and more.
I’d say, “Dad, you can’t do that! You’re going to scare people. They’ll think you’re weird.”
And he’d reply, “Well if they don’t feel like talking, no problem.”
To him, it was as simple as that. He had no problem expressing his social boundaries, and expected others to be able speak up and do the same.
You know what? Almost every person I’ve ever seen him approach responded positively. They were genuinely engaged by him. It’s because he believed people would accept his social Greek style. He created his own reality and other people joined in because we all inherently have a desire to connect.
I was greatly influenced by my dad when I began applying this life philosophy nine years ago. I started believing that people would become more social towards me if I just were more social towards them. And it’s worked tremendously for myself and my clients.
All it takes is accepting that the secret to happiness stems from being social with everyone. I’d love to see a revolutionary shift in human connection where talking to people anywhere is not seen as invasive, but beautiful.
That’s the world I want to live in.