Sarah Barrell: Broken Britain needs a break more than ever
Sunday 17 April 2011
There has been much talk of happiness this week. According to a new study by Gallup, Britain lags behind other countries such as the United States in the cheeriness stakes.
A new charity, Action for Happiness, has been launched to encourage a mass movement of people to pursue "a better way of life", and misery is clearly rattling David Cameron's cage. The PM has asked the Office of National Statistics to quiz the public about how perky it feels. It's enough to make you very grumpy indeed.
The worst thing about being a miserablist nation is that people keep pointing this out to us. Each year, new quality-of-life indexes reveal that we Brits fall far behind other countries for well-being and contentment. We've long known our happiness on this small island is limited – listening to statistics shouting this fact does very little to raise a smile, funnily enough.
What does improve the mood is the prospect of a holiday. As a nation we spend a disproportionate amount of our savings and annual leave trying to buy into other nations' happiness with the two-week holiday as our tool.
But as money gets tighter and travel gets harder, is even this "holiday or die" spirit flagging? A recent feature on AOL (travel.aol.co.uk) looked at the "Ten giveaway signs that you're an annoying air passenger". Here were all the old aggravators; sprawling out on the moving walkway (places to go, people: stand aside!) and hogging both the arm rests on planes (on aircraft that still have such lavish accessories, that is). But what this feature really revealed is that we are all suffering from extreme travel fatigue.
"I wish someone would create a company that offered holidays for the broken," said a weary friend of mine this week. "I so desperately need a break but I can't summon the mental energy it takes to face booking one. Let alone the gargantuan emotional and physical effort it takes to actually get there."
And she's not alone. It's an occupational hazard that people are always asking me where they should holiday. And what they want, I'm increasingly realising, isn't a Condé Nast-style hotlist but to be told, by someone they trust, exactly where to go, how to get there and what to pack. Who says the travel agent role is redundant?
No surprise, then, the rise in popularity of slow travel websites like greentraveller.co.uk and snow carbon.co.uk. These certainly cater for travellers who want to cut their carbon, but they also work very nicely for such as my fatigued friend who can't face going into battle with the airport.
This Easter, record millions were expected to fly off to enjoy the bonanza bank holidays that are bolstering the 2011 spring break. But travel associations such as Abta and Aito have lately noted that not nearly so many people have booked to go away as predicted. But staycationing Brits take note. This Easter is set to be one of the busiest on the roads "for several years", according to the AA.
I was one of the many who couldn't face the exodus over Easter. I've booked a cottage in Suffolk for a week. And traffic jams be damned: family, suitcases, Easter eggs and all are going by train. What could go wrong? Nothing, as long as nobody asks me how happy I am about it.
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