Is our nation of whingers finally happy

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

Is our nation of whingers finally happy

Survey says: A recent national survey claimed that we are now in a better place than we have ever been in since 1989

I DON’T know what we’d do without all these national surveys that attempt, from time to time, to gauge the mood of the nation and keep us informed of how we are feeling.

Most of the time we don’t know whether to laugh or to cry, so it’s good to know that somebody is keeping tabs on our somewhat capricious mood swings.

Nevertheless, it came as a great surprise to me to learn last week, courtesy of a Kantar Millward Brown survey for the Sunday Independent that we are now in a better place than we have ever been in, since 1989. We’re as happy as pigs in muck, if you’ll pardon my vulgarity.

This new found ecstasy has global implications too, because when Irish eyes are smiling, sure the world is bright and gay, we’re told. A bit of appreciation wouldn’t go astray.

Now I don’t want to rain on anyone’s transports of delight, but I don’t recall 1989 as a particularly cheerful time. I have known happier times, both before and since, but then I’ve never really been in tune with the mood of the nation, have I? Personally I was in the doldrums at the time. Others, as in the old World War I song, were in the trenches wearing khaki tunics while some people sported Charvet shirts and a red, red rose. Spending cuts were rife, rumours of corruption abounded and a general election gave no party a majority, leaving us all full of angst for over a month. Then, in October, when the political storms had died down, a deepening depression moved over the country producing a band of persistent rain that is now regarded as one of the phenomenal weather events of the century.

Tipperary won the All-Ireland hurling final that year for the first time in what seemed like living memory, but even that didn’t do much to cheer me up because we beat Antrim, and the only Antrim hurler I had ever heard of was Setanta.

If anyone had told me then, however, that we wouldn’t see another bright day like those days for 28 years, I’d have hoisted my sails and departed forthwith for some sunnier clime. I thought things couldn’t get any worse, but presumably you can see why I’m a bit sceptical of our current state of sheer bliss.

I’m also a bit wary because our self-declared euphoria is so blatantly based on economic factors. The old god has been dispensed with and the new one has apparently provided us with a new meaning for life - although nobody knows who is going to comfort our fears of death. Be that as it may, a massive 77 per cent of us, when asked to describe our current mood said that we were happy, optimistic, cheerful or relaxed. Most of us are looking forward to years of prosperity, without so much as a nod to deValera’s notion of “a happy people, satisfied with frugal comforts, devoting their leisure to things of the spirit”, rather than to making money.

Consumer confidence, we’re told, is at a 28-year high and 52 per cent of us think the country is going in the right direction with Mammon guiding us. Less than one third of us think that the country is going in the wrong direction, but there’s always a contrarian somewhere in the mix, isn’t there? Only three per cent of us now describe ourselves as ‘angry’ and eight per cent are still ‘anxious’, although that figure is down a whole nine points in five years.

The only cloud on the horizon is a fear, not of death, but of another property crash. But that’s understandable: it takes generations to erase some race memories.

The picture, of course, isn’t entirely rosy. There are patches of despair in the fields of happiness, and a disproportional amount of joy seems to be concentrated at the moment on the East coast and particularly in the more affluent areas of the country. The rising tide of optimism hasn’t lifted some of our boats yet, but give it time and surely we’ll all be jumping for joy. In the meantime we could do worse than indulge in a bit of mindfulness to tide us over.

I don’t know who we have to thank for our new found happiness, if it isn’t Enda and his Government. But I’m not going to press this point for fear of making people angry again. All I can say is that our nature is, and always has been, capricious. Whatever about the boost to consumer confidence, we need some spiritual guidance to keep us from slipping back into the Slough of Despond. But things of the spirit never made us rich, you may say, and what do we care, now that we’ve found the key to happiness.

The feel good factor is all very well and positivity has to be welcomed. Halcyon days like these don’t come around too often, but we’d want to be careful about flaunting our joyfulness.

We still have the fourth highest teenage suicide rate in Europe and, according to AWARE, one in ten of us is depressed at any one time. There is something missing from our lives and, although I was never a fan of Dev’s, I sometimes wonder if he didn’t, after all, propound a more authentic version of happiness.

Anyhow, I preferred us when we were miserable. I felt more at home when we were a nation of whingers, lamenting our woes and misfortunes, with the glass always half empty. At least we knew where we stood then, and I have to say I wouldn’t be a bit comfortable in this smug happy valley now if I thought for one minute that it was real.