So, it turns out you can fill the empty void in your soul by buying stuff after all, just as long as you're buying it in the right places. According to a survey conducted by the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and released tomorrow, the quality of local shops is the most important factor determining our satisfaction with the area we live in.
The survey reveals 79 per cent of people thought the local shop should be run by people “committed to the community” and 47 per cent sought a personal relationship with the shop owner. In other words, when the cashier takes our money, looks us in the eye and tells us to “have a nice day”, we need to know that they truly mean it.
But how can you tell when a monetary transaction is also a genuine human interaction? It's confusing as today's sassy retailer is wise to our emotional neediness. Starbucks asks your name when you order a coffee, Iceland is very interested in the welfare of your mother and, across the nation, rebranded Sainsbury's Locals and Tesco Metros are attempting to supplant the friendly corner shop in our affections.
But what really makes a difference to the mood of a shop, apparently, is worker pay. Two thirds of employers who've implemented the Living Wage (£7.45 an hour, compared to the legally-enforced £6.19) reported a significant improvement in staff retention and 80 per cent said they believed it had enhanced the quality of work. When these shop workers smile and tell you to have a nice day, they're more likely to mean it, as they're more likely to be having a nice day too.
Unfortunately, as the Fair Pay Network pointed out back in January, supermarket chains Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys and Morrisons are not among the Living Wage converts. This matters because these companies employ around 900,000 people, making them collectively Britain's second largest employer, after the NHS.
Patriots still smarting from Napoleon's famous diss, 218 years on, should note; we may not be a nation of shopkeepers, but we are a nation of shopkeeper subsidisers. Even if you don't work in a shop, taxpayers top up low supermarket wages to the tune of £50 per worker per week.
It doesn't matter how much home-spun wisdom they print on the packaging or how much inoffensive folk-pop they play over the Tannoy, if you really want your emotional needs met free with every purchase, you'll have to buy your groceries from an independent corner shop or join the campaign for a living wage.
Either way, it's a bargain.