Have you observed a recent increase in cheerfulness and kindness among others? Did you notice people smiling at you and letting you go ahead in lines? If you answered no to these questions, National Smile Week organizers would be disappointed. Their efforts to spread positivity and happiness for at least seven days appear to have failed. Instead, our collective skepticism has halted their attempts.
Studies show that a majority of people feel miserable with life, and four of ten individuals believe that their lives have worsened over the past five years. This depressing outlook is reflected in the statistic that 12 million people in the UK take antidepressants. Furthermore, only a minority of people trust others, and winners of the lottery develop unhealthy habits after indulging in their newfound wealth.
Professor Andrew Oswald from Warwick University, notes that people’s satisfaction with their lives are either stable or decreasing. Combine this with the growing incidence of road, air, and office rage in addition to rising levels of reported incivility, and it becomes clear that we live in a sorrowful England.
This nationwide pessimism persists despite positive developments, such as the rise in life expectancy and the drop in mortality rates. A third of young people enjoy the privilege of higher education, and average house prices have surpassed £100,000. However, all these developments do not make us happy as the change can sometimes bring
Karl Marx accurately captures the market economies’ keeping-up-with-the-Joneses dynamic, which applies not only to houses but also to our cars, children’s clothes, and bodies. Unfortunately, attempts to buy a better life through an increase in consumption only lead us further into a vicious cycle, hoping that the next cycle or purchase will finally fulfill our desires. Meanwhile, advertisers continually deceive us by sending the message that acquiring their product can improve our happiness.
Although the sustenance of fatal diseases, rising life expectancy, and falling mortality rates reflect that our overall health is better, people’s anxiety over their health grows alongside it. Inarguably, our current health expectation is high, and we look towards the NHS to be responsible for our well-being.
To sum up, an abundance of positive developments exists in our lives, yet we still struggle to feel fulfilled and happy. Our collective skepticism, competitive tendencies and anxiety push us to constant dissatisfaction, and while we are healthier and wealthier than ever, we remain unhappy.
Oswald and other experts attribute some of the current feelings of dissatisfaction in modern society to commuting and relationship breakdown. Research shows that people who spend a long time commuting are statistically less happy than those who do not, which means that Stephen Byers can also be held responsible for contributing to our sour mood.
The increase in the "relationship risk" is connected to unhappiness, according to Oswald. The dissolution of marriage or relationships has a profound negative impact on most people. Although there are positive aspects of a high divorce rate like greater independence, there are downsides to it as well.
As traditional paths to happiness, such as marriage, buying a home, and making money, become more challenging or lead to nowhere, people look for alternatives. The hedonistic lifestyle has gained popularity, with people indulging in cocaine on weekends, having as much sex with strangers as possible, and taking last-minute vacations to exotic locations.
Evangelical Christianity offers a similar euphoria, and the cheerfulness of the "state of grace" often bothers others. However, the psychological low after relinquishing faith is more severe than that of most drugs. On the other hand, some people seek inner peace instead of wild Saturday nights or enthusiastic Sunday mornings. One in 20 people now practices yoga, a fivefold increase over 15 years, while one in five uses natural remedies, a threefold rise. Additionally, the number of books published on non-Christian spirituality has recently surpassed the Christian portfolio.
"The growth in these activities is indicative of people searching for something different and feeling restless," says Marks. "However, the increase in television watching counters this activity growth. As many people passively sink into apathy, others actively seek out new solutions."
There is no magic pill for happiness, as some of the most brilliant minds in the world have been mulling over these questions for generations. The answer to the happiness question could be more straightforward; when countries and households are no longer in dire need of material things, the most significant contributor to a satisfying life is a healthy set of personal relationships.
"There is a lot of nostalgia for the perceived "good old days," says Melanie Howard, co-director of the Future Foundation. "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 crave something more in life, but the number of hours in the day is finite. The relative happiness of late teenagers and those entering middle age may be attributed to their investing more time in friendships. Thirtysomethings, who juggle work and family, are the least happy. Howard warns that those who are not yet retired but are no longer in full-time education may spend more time accumulating and losing money than spending time with family and friends, which could account for the "American paradox." The citizens of the wealthiest nation in the world are unhappy because of a lack of warm interpersonal relationships, hassle-free neighbors, inclusive memberships, and strong familial structures.
In conclusion, the secret to happiness is not money. So, leave your lawn, forget your investments, and call in sick tomorrow; treat yourself to spending time with friends and family.