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HEALTH

12 very good reasons to be happy you live in Spain

Despite the ongoing pandemic, there are many reasons to be happy if you live in Spain.

12 very good reasons to be happy you live in Spain
Smile: you're in Spain! Photo: Andrei /Flickr

The diet


Photo: David Dennis/Flickr 

Research has shown that specific nutrients – such as Omega 3, found in oily fish – can contribute to making you happier. Lucky then, that the Mediterranean diet is full of just that food, as well as healthy fruit and vegetables and lashings of heart-healthy olive oil.

The weather


Calo des Moro bay in Mallorca. Photo: Tommie Hansen/Flickr 

We’ve all heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) – the condition that makes people feel more depressed during the winter months that are full of rainy days and early, dark nights. But luckily, in much of Spain, the sun keeps shining throughout the winter months – even in the aftermath of Storm Filomena which brought record snowfall across much of Spain –  meaning you will get your daily dose of vitamin D.

The mentality


Photo: Anne Marthe Widvey/Flickr 

Some of the best self-help gurus say that one of the keys to happiness is not prizing fame, money and power, and being grateful for what you have. Spaniards have this pretty much sussed – they appreciate the small things and are great at living in the moment, enjoying simple pleasures like a morning coffee or a long lunch with friends.

Family


Photo: Fiona Govan. 

Devoting time to family is one of the keys to happiness according to many psychologists, and Spaniards do this without even thinking. Spain is a sociable society, one in which grandparents are rarely carted off to an old people’s home, but become the cherished head of the family, often living and socializing with their younger relatives – although Covid has put a stop to this sort of intergenerational mingling for the time being.

The same goes for family members at the other end of the family tree – Spaniards love children, who are welcome in every restaurant and bar and always made a fuss of – a new mother in Spain can’t walk two minutes down the street without being stopped by interested strangers who want to coo over her new tot. 

The food


Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

According to best restaurant lists, Spain consistently hits above its weight and currently counts three of its establishments in the world’s top ten according to the acclaimed World’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2020 list.  Whatever their budget, Spaniards adore food and the ritual that surrounds it.  You don’t have to fork out a fortune to eat like a king in Spain, where fresh produce is bountiful and the most amazing food invention (tapas!) means you can try multiple morsels in one evening. And if you love ham, there is no greater place on earth. 

Best place for mums


Photo: antonio echevers/Flickr 

A recent survey revealed that Spain is one of the best places in the world to be a mum; it is so good in fact that children never want to leave home – well, until at least the age of 30.

Highest live expectancy

Photo: Tommy Hemmert Olesen/Flickr 

Whether down to the Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, fish and fresh vegetables, the excellent healthcare or the sociable society, Spaniards have the highest life expectancy in Europe. Live here for a while and hopefully you’ll pick up some of their healthy habits. 

Culture


The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP

“The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” So said Picasso, and Spaniards couldn’t agree more. Spain is home to one of the richest art heritages in the world, as well as some of the most impressive architecture: from Gaudi’s many masterpieces in Barcelona the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim in Bilbao.

Read More: Top Ten amazing architectural wonders of Spain

Exercise


Photo: Francisco Manuel Esteban/Flickr 

Exercise is one of the keys to staying happy and Spain is a great place to get back to nature and enjoy the outdoors. The weather is great, so Spain is the perfect place for jogging, cycling or just taking a stroll. And with such a huge coastline, there is plenty in the way of watersports to enjoy. And for the risk-takers out there, it is also home to some incredible extreme sports.

READ MORE: Twelve adrenaline fuelled adventures for thrill seekers in Spain 

Get outside


Photo: David Ramos/Flickr 

It is scientifically proven that being outdoors makes people happier. Spaniards are not generally ones to hibernate through the winter, the good weather means that even in the colder months, most Spaniards prefer to be outside socializing than cooped up indoors. 

Chocolate and churros

As any chocoholic will gleefully tell you, chocolate always improves your mood. Maybe that’s because it stimulates the production of endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that create feelings of pleasure or because it contains serotonin, a natural antidepressant that can elevate mood.

Forget buying a bar of the stuff though because you are in Spain, and here the very best way to get a chocolate fix is with a mug full of thick, rich, steaming hot chocolate in which to dunk freshly fried crispy and sugar dusted churros.

Whether you buy it from a kiosk and enjoy it sitting on a bench in a plaza or order it in a traditional tiled churreria, we absolutely guarantee it will put a smile on your face.    

Party


Participants in Seville’s Fería de Abril. Photo: Cristina Quicler/AFP

Spain has some of the biggest, wildest and wackiest festivals in the world from city-wide celebrations to the annual fiesta in each and every little town around the country. From gay pride to Seville’s Fería de Abril and the huge Holy Week celebrations – whatever you are into, there will be a Spanish festival for you.

And although with coronavirus, we are unlikely to see the return to normal festival life until at summer at the very least, forward planning and creating a bucket list for when we can travel again is a really good way to cheer yourself up, be optimistic and look to the future! 

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

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Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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