Greece’s Youth Embrace the Komboloi

A new generation warms to the traditional worry beads

After wooden bow ties and glasses to ironic facial hair, a new trend is now being adopted by young men of Greece, that of the traditional worry beads, komboloi.

Generally associated with an older generation, the clatter of komboloi can typically be heard in the country’s coffee shops or parks where the elderly engage in endless debates about every topic under the sun, their beads getting noisier as agitation levels rise.

But now, the beads can increasingly be seen in the hands of sharply dressed young men or resting on the counters of trendy bars and hangouts, sported by a younger generation who have taken to the accessory with gusto.

According to Evangelia Ieropoulou, manager at the well-known komboloi brand Kombologadiko, the company’s sales of the worry beads to young people rose by 30% in 2015. “We did notice an increase in sales to young people. In general they spend between 20-40 euros on each komboloi,” she says. 

“I think it helps them cope with their worries and helps them quit smoking!”

Found in many cultures around the world, worry beads made their way to Greece during the Ottoman occupation to become a firmly-embedded part of Greek culture. Although cheap plastic versions have flooded the market, it’s worth investing in the traditional type made of resins, stones or metals and strung on silk cords. Komboloi aficionados will tell you there is nothing like a well-made komboloi and that the repetitive flicking of the beads on their string has a deeply soothing effect.

The logic behind the benefits of worry beads is not just theoretical. A 2004 study by University College London showed that keeping your hands busy reduces stress. Participants were shown traumatic videos and divided into a control group given no distractions, a group given verbal distractions and a group asked to type a repetitive pattern on a keyboard while watching the video. The group that engaged in the visuospatial task of typing suffered the fewest flashbacks in the days that followed.

It would also appear that the youth of Athens have discovered a healthier way of dealing with daily stress, since the growth of this trend has brought an added benefit. “I think it helps them cope with their worries and helps them quit smoking!” says Ieropoulou. It might just be that the humble komboloi is managing to achieve what the much-flouted smoking ban has not.

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