Exclusive: Reasons to be cheerful! It's official: Britain is a happier place
Despite economic uncertainty, increasing numbers of us are determined to make the best of what we have
Britain is becoming more content. After four years of soaring unemployment, a property price slump, shop closures and economic gloom, it seems that we are finally finding some reasons to be cheerful.
While the economic prospects remain uncertain, Britons feel more optimistic than at any point since the start of the financial crisis, according to a new report. The annual survey of public attitudes suggests that the nation has grown tired of self-pity and instead has developed a bloody-minded refusal to give in to gloom.
The number describing the nation's mood as "angry" has fallen to its lowest level since the recession began. The proportion of those described as "hopeful" is up by 127 per cent since 2010, while the number of people who consider themselves "born at a fortunate time" is up by 13 per cent to nearly half. Three-quarters of the 2,020 polled agreed that "despite its faults, Britain is still a great country to live in".
The Moody Britain report, which canvassed people from across Scotland, England and Wales, says: "The future is no more certain but we feel more confident that we can roll with the punches. At the same time problems such as the eurozone meltdown have put our issues into perspective. It's not great, but at least it's not Greece."
The findings, by the advertising agency McCann London and published exclusively in The Independent on Sunday today, suggest that the UK has settled into a "resigned sense of optimism" particularly when the country's problems are set against those that beset the rest of the world.
Analysts suggest the findings are symptomatic of a "cultural adjustment" in which people are learning to value their own personal circumstances. Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, said: "We're seeing a mix of public acquiescence and resignation to the new state of things. As it becomes more evident that we will never revert to how things were, people's aspirations and measures of optimism and pessimism start to narrow accordingly."
The political historian Anthony Seldon said: "We have seen similar moments of cultural adjustment during the Second World War and the Cold War. At the outset there is a period of dismay that cuts deeply into the national psyche. Then people grow used to the new conditions recognising that although life is hard, it's still bearable."
But the report also reveals flashpoints including growing anger at rising inequality. The cost of living frustrates Britons, the report says, with 62 per cent of respondents citing it as the main source of their problems, compared with 46 per cent in 2009. About 60 per cent cited benefits cheats and the economic situation as their next major areas of frustration.
Oliver James, author of Affluenza, a study of social unhappiness, said: "The credit crunch was a social and economic game changer. The general public should be incensed. If this report suggests that people are less angry, then it only goes to show there is false consciousness that has been propagated by the ruling elite."
When asked which country has "the best template for where Britain should be as a society", Australia was first, followed by Canada, New Zealand, Switzerland and Germany.
But how do these findings translate in the real world? To find out, The IoS asked some of the survey's respondents what makes them happy.
'I've found confidence at last'
Isobel Wood, 40, is a public sector worker in Sutton Coldfield, in the West Midlands, where she lives with her husband and two children.
"Previous years were filled with emotional highs and lows. Now I am married with two small kids, but this is the first year that we found our confidence as parents. My son is four and my daughter is two. After you survive the first few years of motherhood, life hits a comfortable plateau. Of course we want to go to more places, but I don't feel the need to have late nights out any more. During a recession you realise that life is short. I'm not sensing the same extravagance that we saw before the crash. Even our wealthiest friends are not opting for the decadent holidays of the boom years, and there's less unnecessary housing renovation. We are content with our second-hand furniture because why on earth do you need new ones when you have two small children? There is a lot riding on this summer with the Olympics and the Jubilee. Whether reality can match expectation remains to be seen. But personally I feel lucky to have survived another year, got through another round of cuts and paid off the mortgage. This is the year we realise that watching the children develop and grow up is what life is really about."
'It's going to be a great summer'
Alan Alcock, 59, a retired steel worker, lives in Leeds with his partner.
"At the moment it is hard to see light at the end of the tunnel. Will the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympics lift the spirit of the country? Yes, but only temporarily, and the real reason is that it coincides with the best time of year: summer. Nothing that the Government does really makes an impact on the national debt, but it does have an impact on us. I don't think these austerity measures make a difference, but they do have an impact on low and medium earners. I just hope things stay as they are and don't get any worse, particularly for our family. My son works in the steel industry, like I did. He's got a decent job, £30,000-something a year, but they're feeling the pinch; they're not going on holidays abroad. I've got a daughter who's a police officer; she just bought a house in Wales, and they've been struggling. I'm just hoping we can weather the storm until there is an upturn in the economy. But like everybody else, I can't see it happening soon."
'I've just inherited a fortune!'
Christopher Haworth, 65, is a retired recruitment consultant who lives in London with his partner.
"This year my mother passed away and left us a lot of money; she was 102. But I also became a grandfather. So while on a personal level I am better off, I am also fearful of the kind of world that my grandchild will grow up in. I have spent a lot of time doing my house up. But now I am careful to hold back a bit. I tell my wife we have to keep some for a rainy day. I've seen what happened to my father – the money sort of whittles away, especially with inflation. And of course I hope to have some to pass along to children who are going to have it worse than us. In terms of charity I only give my money to Third World countries. Even in this recession we're still bloody well off compared with the rest of the world. It's just that the human tendency is to think about things from our own perspective. We're used to things working out quickly but this is going to take a very long time. We're only going to start scratching the surface. The reality is hitting home that this is going to take a long time, and as a pensioner that troubles me."
'My children know the value of things'
Ceri Richards, 32, is a sales assistant at a supermarket in Aberdare, Wales. She lives with her partner and two young children.
"This is the year that my children have learned to see the value in everyday things. Instead of feeling pressured into taking exotic holidays, we started camping, and everyone has had more fun than expected. The kids sometimes ask me for things and we have had to find ways to make things work. My daughter had a period of waking up at six each morning to do a paper round. I was impressed by her commitment during some of the darkest mornings; she got up in all weather accompanied only by the dog. I certainly wouldn't have been able to do that if I was her age. Of course it's tough here, but it's not as if it's brighter overseas. My sister went to Malta and was working for the same amount of money in a nicer place. She did a range of jobs, whatever came with the season. But things were pretty much the same over there. I got engaged last March, but I'm still waiting to get married. My partner recently lost his job so there's not much chance of a wedding on the horizon. I don't want a big wedding, but we can't even afford a little one at the moment. People believe things have got to get better. But rather than feel sorry for ourselves I think the British mindset is to just get on with it."
'We've just moved in together'
Jennifer Pearson, 23, lives in Edinburgh, where she works for the Scottish Cycling Agency.
"I have recently moved into a new flat with my boyfriend, which feels like a new step in life. It is exciting and scary in equal measure. I feel like I am in control and taking responsibility for my life. And that is a huge thing. Finance has become a big issue for everyone. But unless my work plans on handing me a massive bonus tomorrow, these things are not something I can change. Instead the best thing to do is absorb them. Compared with other countries in the world, Britain has a lot to be proud of. We have a good system in place to support people who don't have a job or get ill, and we have systems in place to protect the more vulnerable people in society. That and, of course, the forthcoming Olympics. I've got a couple of family holidays in the pipeline and in September I want to go somewhere a little exotic, maybe like Thailand. Ultimately I'm lucky to have the things I do, a job I enjoy and the support of my family. Whether things are better or worse ultimately depends on how you view your circumstances. I am quite a positive person and do not just look at things as if they're getting worse."
Happy tweets: Bliss in 140 characters or less
To celebrate today's Happy List, we asked our Twitter followers what makes them happy – from parenting to politics, sunsets to the first signs of spring. Here we reveal a few of the things that put a smile on the nation's face:
Kicki Fitzsimmons (@KickiFitzy) Reading a good book in bed, next to my husband
Elinor Huggett (@ElinorHuggett) On a drizzly London day, a big bowl of hearty home made soup hits the spot like nothing else
Andrew Thatcher (@andythatcher1) Completing London Marathon for @pancreaticcanuk and not getting too wet!!
Olga S (@Schmolik) Going to pictures on my afternoon off, enjoying a film with a big cup of coffee and a sticky bun.
Miriam Akhtar (@pospsychologist) On my #happylist at the moment – savouring all the signs of spring
Johanna B (@Johanna_B15) My best friend, a great book, sunny mornings, a good run, my partner & family, yummy food, a problem solved
Aunty Winky (@AuntyWinky) Dawn over Waterloo Bridge – one of the best views in London
Follow the Independent on Sunday on Twitter at www.twitter.com/IndyOnSunday
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