Leading article: Genuinely happy to help

Share

Welcome to our annual celebration of selflessness and the service of others, The Happy List. This started as a light-hearted riposte to the league table of prurience and greed of a rival newspaper's Rich List, and is now in its fifth successful year. In the years since, things have changed. In a period of national retrenchment unprecedented in peace time, it might seem harder to be positive.

Yet we report today that the people of Britain are more hopeful, and more likely to feel that they have been "born at a fortunate time", than since the start of the financial crisis. And we report from Liverpool, one of the hardest-pressed areas of the country, on how the people are taking control of public services in a new surge of civic pride, eclipsing the "self-pity city" days of the 1980s.

This may sound a little like David Cameron's Big Society in action, but in fact it exposes how patronising the Prime Minister's slogan is. Volunteering, charity and self-help have always been important in Britain, but trying to co-opt such impulses for party-political purposes could inhibit them. Fortunately, the people of Liverpool and elsewhere are unlikely to be diverted by phrase-making in Westminster from working together to improve their lives.

Not least because the idea of the Big Society is self-contradictory. Mr Cameron reached for it as a rhetorical device to counter what he saw as the Labour Party's tendency to Big Government, and yet he – and the British people – know that Government has a role to play in encouraging altruism. Our ComRes opinion poll today finds that, by a three-to-one margin, people agree that "the Government ought to try to increase happiness, or general well being, rather than just national income and wealth".

But what should ministers do? They could take seriously the work of Professor Richard Layard and others, who have thought about how public policy can help make people happy, and how government can get out of the way of people pursuing their own happiness. This goes to a dilemma at the heart of politics, as expressed by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, the founders of the Fabian Society, when they tried to set out the programme of the early Labour Party a century ago and were reduced to calling for a national "change of heart".

The modern version of this would be a call for a change of national "culture". Which is something for which all of us, journalists and politicians included, have a responsibility. Newspapers have long been criticised for accentuating the negative. Some seem to revel in portraying Britain as a crime-ridden hell-hole in which no one is to be trusted and the motives of strangers are suspect. The present austerity seems to have intensified that tendency. Some of this cynicism about politicians, wealth creators and life in general may be justified, but there is a danger in taking it too far. And there is a danger in assuming that the attitude of some parts of the media is a reflection of what most people actually think.

Outside the media bubble, people do amazing things and deserve to be celebrated. Our Happy List honours the unsung citizens who give back, rather than take, who help others without thought of enriching themselves, or, in many cases, at considerable personal cost. We think that these people are representative of the country, and that they are newsworthy too. We think that they are an example to us all, and should inspire us all to focus more on how to increase the sum of national happiness. So, naturally, worry, in moderation. But also, be happy.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Related Articles
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Tory whips were anxiously ringing round the “usual suspects” following Douglas Carswell's defection to Ukip  

Douglas Carswell’s defection reminds us that it's the Tories who have the most to fear from Ukip

Andrew Grice
Daniel Barenboim conducts Prom 46  

Despite Gaza’s war, the show must go on

David Lister
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone