I know I am one to talk but... CHEER UP

Discussion in 'General' started by Switch, Sep 14, 2002.

  1. Richard Reeves
    Sunday May 19, 2002
    The Observer

    Did you notice an outbreak of joviality and generosity last week? People beaming at you as they let you go ahead in the bus queue, grinning as they shared your morning traffic jam, smirking through the quarterly budget planning meeting?
    No? The organisers of National Smile Week will be down in the mouth. All their efforts to perk us up for at least seven days have run, then, into the sand of our collective scepticism.

    We are a miserable lot. Four out of 10 of us think life has become worse in the past five years, more than double the number who reckon things have improved, according to the latest ICM poll. Twelve million of us are on anti-depressants; only a minority of us think 'people can be trusted most of the time'; a £2 million Lottery winner, Phil Kitchen, has drunk himself to death.

    'At best, people's satisfaction with life is stable, but most of the data suggests it is actually going down,' says Professor Andrew Oswald of Warwick University, the UK's leading expert on happiness trends. 'We seems to be feeling more miserable as time passes.'

    Mix in some road/air/office/phone rage, a rise in reported incivility and a good dose of political apathy and the misery malaise looks even starker. We live in an Eeyore England.

    All this when average house prices have just blasted through the £100,000 mark, when life expectancy continues to lengthen, mortality rates are dropping and more than a third of young people enjoy what was once the elite privilege of higher education. We are healthy, wealthy and wise. Wages are up, unemployment is down. In material terms, we've never had it so good. Yet we've never felt so bad.

    If we seem like a nation of ingrates it may be because all the goodies that are supposed to make us happy don't do it for us any more - even if we have yet to wake up to the fact. So, your house is worth half a million. All you do then is worry about insurance and inheritance tax, and fester with resentment about the one up the road that's worth twice as much because of its south-facing garden.

    Karl Marx, who for all his faults knew a bit about capitalism, captured the keeping-up-with-the-Joneses dynamic of market economies perfectly: 'A house may be large or small; as long as the neighbouring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all the social requirements of a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace and the little house shrinks to a hut.'

    With mass media, the palace doesn't have to be next door - it can be beamed into our living rooms. And the competition doesn't stop with the three-bed semi; it applies to our car, our children's clothes, even our bodies. You might feel OK about your bum until you see Kylie's version plastered everywhere (a commoditisation even Marx didn't predict.)

    Money doesn't make most of us happy any more. Poor people, understandably, see their life satisfaction rise with income but for most of the population in a country as affluent as ours, any jump-start to wellbeing from a pay rise or new conservatory quickly wears off.

    'I was window-shopping in the South of France recently and I saw a diamond-studded G-string,' Oswald says. 'When we get to that stage we should realise that more money isn't getting us much more in terms of happiness.' Harrods is currently carrying a pair of shoes priced at a cool million - imagine if you stepped in dog shit.

    Not that we've stopped trying to buy a better life. Rates of consumption continue to rise - trapping us on what psychologists have dubbed a 'hedonic treadmill', hoping the next cycle, the next purchase, will finally get us to the promised land.

    Nic Marks, who runs the wellbeing project at the New Economics Foundation, says: 'That's the real evil of advertising. Collectively, the adverts send a message that if only you could find and buy the right product, you'd be happy. But it doesn't take much for people to see the futility of this in the end.'

    But what about health? Surely the virtual elimination in our society of most fatal diseases, rising life-expectancy and falling mortality should be cheering us up? Not a bit of it. All that happens, according to Marks, is that our expectations rise just as or even more quickly.

    'Objectively, our health is better on almost every count,' he says. 'But this doesn't translate into people feeling any healthier. People are more aware of their health, so they get more anxious about it. And they also expect the system - the NHS - to take responsibility for it.' Health-conscious means health-anxious.

    Medicine has become a victim of its own success: having massively reduced the chances of death in childbirth, for example, people are now shocked if a life is lost - and reach for a lawyer. Obstetrics and gynaecology have arguably done more than any other branch of medicine to improve life chances. Death was unavoidable - now it is unacceptable. We seek financial compensation if things go wrong.

    Oswald and others point to two aspects of modern life that may help to explain some of the ennui: commuting and relationship breakdown. People who spend a long time commuting are statistically less satisfied than others: so Stephen Byers can now also take the blame for our foul mood.

    The rise in 'relationship risk' is linked to unhappiness, says Oswald. 'Divorce, or relationship breakdown, has a profound negative impact on most people. Of course, there are good things about a high divorce rate - greater freedom and so on, especially for women - but there is a downside, too.'

    With the accepted routes to happiness - marriage, mortgage, money - either blocked or leading nowhere, people are looking for an alternative. The hedonist option is growing in popularity: cocaine at the weekend, as much sex with as many strangers as possible and last-minute holidays to exotic locations.

    Evangelical Christianity gives people a similar boost - it is the smiliness of those in a 'state of grace' that so annoys others. The psychological downer after coming off God, however, is worse than that of coming off most drugs. On the other hand, there are those looking for inner calm rather than wild Saturday nights or ecstatic Sunday mornings. One in 20 people now hits the yoga mat - a five-fold increase over 15 years. One in five uses natural medicines, a three-fold rise. And the number of books published on non-Christian spirituality has just surpassed the Christian portfolio.

    'The increases in these sorts of activities are indicators of people looking for something different, of feeling restless,' says Marks. 'But you have to set against them the data suggesting television-watching is on the rise: there are as many people sinking into apathy and passivity as there are searching out new solutions.'

    We are unlikely to find a magic bullet for happiness - after all, some of the world's greatest minds have been pondering these questions for millennia. The answer to the question of happiness may be more prosaic: once countries and households are free of material need (if not of material 'want'), the biggest contributor to life satisfaction seems to be a healthy set of personal relationships.

    'There is a lot of nostalgia for the perceived "good old days",' Melanie Howard, co-director of the Future Foundation, says. 'But what we do know is that social networks, plus the time to enjoy them, are hugely important. People with lots of money may not feel any better, in part because they spend all their time making their money or commuting to and from the place where they make it.'

    We want more out of life, but the number of hours in the day remains fixed. The relative happiness of late teenagers and those passing middle age may relate to their spending more time on friendships. The thirtysomethings, fighting on the two fronts of work and children, are the most fed up. Howard warns that those between full-time education and retirement may be spending more time on the activities they think will make them happy - earning and spending - than on those that actually will: spending time with friends and family.

    This friend-shaped gap explains the American paradox - why the residents of the richest nation in the world are so glum - according to Professor Robert E. Lane at Yale University. 'There is a kind of famine of warm interpersonal relations, of easy-to-reach neighbours, of encircling, inclusive memberships, and of solid family life,' he says.

    The secret of happiness? Not money. So leave the lawn, forget your investments and call in sick tomorrow. Do yourself a favour. Phone a friend

  2. I wasn't aware the ice cream man was involved in such interesting studies....

    the key is to put yourself in the right mindframe...you'll go a long way if you occasionally take a break from life to put things into perspective..luckily marijuana is great at doing such things...life is meant to be an adventure..."pain is inevitable...grief is optional"...or something like that..it was a quote scrawled on the wall in a math class a while back...that and "I used to complain because I had no shoes...untill I met a man who had no feet.." I dont really know how that ties into this thread..but im quit high on life right now....NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1
  4. Marijuana is a great escape, the great escape in my opinion. It really is too bad so many people don't know how helpful it can be for dealing with stress, I've seen people actually get addicted to vacations, they save all their money only to go spend six months of savings on one 'Carnival Cruise'. But normal people can afford marijuana, most of us don't have to spend all of our savings on it, and over all it's at least as relaxing as any vacation ('holiday' for you brits) could be.

    Marijuana: The cheap and ecological answer. :)
  5. ok, since were talking about ecology...i say fuck the tuna...we should eat whales...whales can be used for their blubber, meat, and whatever else they can be used for.......lets get some fucking whale farms going people...those fuckers are big...tuna...not so big...

    actually that would mean that they are more economical....my bad
  6. hehe, why not just genetically engineer giant whale sausages that can't swim as much as roll around in the water? They'll be mostly meat and blubber, and children can hunt them for sport, or Frenchmen can ride them down the river and have whale rolling competitions where the last one standing on their whale sausage wins?

    Oh, and the Wall is far too depressing. The good 'ol trippy Floyd stuff is best for smoking weed, unless I feel shitty about life anyway, then The Wall is groovy. yeah
  7. thats a great idea about the whales..exept for the fact that whales very rarely mate and take years to produce their young...how will we ever resupply the ocean once we've eaten all the whales?...my advice...squirrels..noboy likes squirrels
  8. .......people already blast squirrels........


    optimum living conditions, top of the line vibrating quarter operated beds, and lots and lots and lots of ants...whales love ants...theyre just hard to come by.
  9. In america's younger days there was whale killin' left and right . Until we killed most of 'em and had to stop. The only whale hunters in AK are natives, since they got that subsistence thing going for them. Oh, and Nubbin, Try telling the NaSqA (National Squirrel Alliance) that everyone hates squirrels. They totally got like a book full of statistics on how squirrels rule. So on second thought, don't even fuck with the NaSqA.
  10. FARM




    i wanna be a whale farmer.
  11. You'd have to build a BIG ass pond to raise whales. They'd have to be deep too!

    A whale farm would be unique though!
  12. Yeah well seeing as how you were comparing to tuna I just thought you meant we'd do away with them as we have tuna.

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