Happiness index: Cheer up, you Chicken Lickens. Disaster isn’t just around the corner

The Olympics, unemployment and longer life expectancy: some indicators why we're slightly happier than last year

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This year’s happiness survey from the Office for National Statistics finds that we’re just a bit more cheerful than we were.

No explanation is offered, and it’s not really the job of ONS to provide one, so let me try. We’re marginally happier because many of the doom-laden scenarios that commanded headlines over the last year have not, and may never, come to pass.

Let’s start with the obvious: the Olympics. Instead of the soggy disaster anticipated, we had a full-blown success. From the Opening Ceremony to the food in the athletes’ village to London’s public transport to the GB medal tally, pretty much everything worked.

This time last year there were not-unrelated concerns that high hotel prices and Olympic crowds would drive tourists away. There was a dip in visitors, but spending rose, and this year record throngs are beating a path to our door. What is more, they – and we – have enjoyed what the Met Office has often promised , but never delivered: that elusive “barbecue summer”, which was all the more welcome for this year’s warning about freezing temperatures and eternal rain.

As my next exhibit, I’ll submit the ageing population, otherwise known as the demographic time-bomb. Earlier this month, the University of Cambridge, no less, summarised its latest research findings thus: “Results from two major cohort studies… reveal that the number of people with dementia in the UK is substantially lower than expected because overall prevalence in the 65 and over age group has dropped.” Yes,  dropped, by more than 20 per cent.  In other words, our predictions have been too gloomy.

More research released last week, this time from Harvard, found that longer life expectancy did not mean, as universally feared, that people were ill for longer, but that they were well for longer. “With the exception of the year or two just before death, people are healthier than they used to be,” said David Cutler, the professor who led the study. So, hurray!  We may not need to fret quite so much about the cost of ageing.

Now for some social indicators.  UK unemployment through the recession has disappointed the professional pessimists by stubbornly refusing to soar. Ditto crime, which has fallen substantially. Nor have higher fees put young people off university, including those from “deprived backgrounds”. You may question how some of these figures are compiled, just as you can reasonably ask what sort of jobs people are doing, for how many hours and for what pay. But a country of idlers turning to crime for want of anything better to do this is not.

And finally, some economic figures. Both retail spending (shopping) and mortgage lending are, in the language of the financial press, “bouncing back strongly”. If you really want to carry on doom-mongering, you might observe that higher spending and lending contains menacing hints of “irrational exuberance”. But then, you really would be seeing the cloud in every silver lining. 

What do nurses do all day?

Unreasonably, I was annoyed by a survey in the British Medical Journal Health and Safety (the title says it all), showing that nurses are “forced” to skimp on distributing medicine, pain relief and general TLC. I was annoyed, first, because the figures are three years old. More, though, because a common patient complaint concerns the gaggles of nurses chatting loudly about their personal lives or retreating to offices to do the same. Of course, nurses need their breaks, but I think – and now know – their on-duty time could be better spent.

m.dejevsky@independent.co.uk

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