Leading article: Be generous, be happy

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The Independent Online

You can be forgiven for turning your thoughts in upon yourself just now.

You may have gone all philosophical, wondering how it is that the banks have been given billions of pounds of your money – to allow them to pay out millions in bonuses to fat cat employees – which you are going to have to pay for through higher taxes next year. Or you may be trying to work out how exactly you are going to be hit by the 6.4 per cent annual cuts said to be looming in the nation's budgets for higher education, transport, housing, defence and all the rest. But set all that aside for a moment.

Money hasn't made you happy to date. According to the recent report by the Young Foundation, prosperity has, inversely, created a psychologically fragile society in which increased wealth has been accompanied by soaring levels of individual isolation and stress. This feel-bad factor is linked to an attenuation in our personal relationships. The rise of individualism and family breakdown has outweighed the benefits of greater material abundance. As society has become more fractured, we have become more wretched. Part of that fragmentation, the report suggests, is the subliminal impact of the widening disparity between rich and poor. The wider that gap, the more dejected we become.

The irony, of course, is that we are entering upon the season in which we are supposed to redirect our attention away from ourselves and towards others. Giving not receiving is the ancient message of our nation's Christmas tradition. That is why, at this time of year, The Independent runs an appeal in which we present the work of three charities and tell stories from across the globe of remarkable and resilient people who, in different ways, are trying to make the world a better place.

If fragmentation is exacerbating our woes, then perhaps making unexpected gestures of solidarity will do the opposite. Only connect, as E M Forster famously said. Perhaps you will find that an unprovoked act of generosity will do more than bring some good into the lives of individuals who struggle on in situations far more wretched than most of us can comprehend. It may do you some good too. Go on, surprise yourself: try a random act of kindness.