Experts, we can all agree, should stop making predictions based on evidence that is not – and cannot be – scientifically replicated. Their interpretations of the past can be equally shaky, too. However, if there is some academic rigour in the latter, we can allow the authors a little more credence.
True, our own prejudices will still dictate the depth of scholarship needed to persuade or dissuade us on any issue. And the media through which we are made aware of researchers’ findings may still distort their conclusions. But with those provisos, we can’t help liking this study from the University of Warwick, in conjunction with the Social Media Forum.
‘Understanding happiness; the Victorians were “happier” than us’ is its official title, with a strap line explaining that – judging from a vast literary analysis of the the last 250 years – ‘levels of happiness appear to have been highest during the Victorian era, and [in] the 20th century peaked during 1957, a level to which they have never returned’.
The Daily Mail – which strangely, at the time of writing, has been the only news platform to cover this study – chose to focus on 1957, as it would. (After all, you need good photos to illustrate a story; and that year provides the excellent peg of Tory Prime Minister Macmillan telling the nation: ‘You’ve never had it so good.’) But the paper didn’t try to put any political spin on it, simply reporting the co-author’s conclusions.
Said Dr Daniel Sgroi: ‘Memories of the Second World War and the period of austerity that followed were still fresh in the mind of the nation, perhaps helping people to appreciate what they had.’ He concluded: ‘It may be that people in the 1950s had a greater sense of realism about happiness. Now we are more aware of what is happening in the world than people were then, but this could be making us unhappier. And people now have to face pressures put upon them, such as work stress, which might have increased.’
So, when life expectancy was 66 for men and most cancers were guaranteed killers, the British people were happier. When the national diet was eggs’n’bacon finished off with a fag and the pubs were full at lunchtime, they were happier. When there were grammar schools and secondary-mods, and only winners got prizes on sports day. When there were no congestion charges or diversity officers or CCTVs…
Make of that what you will. I’d say ‘realism’ was the money word. And it applies to Sgrio’s other observations. Because, frankly, people are constantly being bombarded with ‘progressive’ messages, then guilt-tripped, lectured and let down if they don’t adopt or aspire to unrealistic standards.
To know that all your efforts over the last century – even over the last 50 years – have subtracted from the sum of human happiness should be a sobering thought for the world’s do-gooders. If they decided to ease off, I reckon, we’d all drink to that.