Sunday, 5 December 2021

A sense of perspective brings Christmas cheer


If you were to assess the happiness of the nation based on news headlines, you’d be in for a gloomy picture.

Brexit scare stories, low productivity, terrorist attacks, and continuous political upheavals have dominated the front pages this year. Looking abroad, we’ve seen natural disasters, violence, and even the threat of nuclear escalation.

But as we reach the end of the year, with Christmas within reach, it is worth remembering that this is far from the whole story.

In fact, people in the UK are getting happier. The ONS wellbeing report for the year following the EU referendum showed that levels of happiness and life satisfaction are up since June 2016 (“despite Brexit”, as the saying goes). That this report was so surprising is a sign of our tendency – in conversation and in the media – to focus on the negative and ignore the countless ways that life, in this country and beyond, is getting better.

Christmas cheer

For a start, happiness is closely linked to financial stability, and UK employment levels are at record highs, with more people in work now than ever before. The City is thriving, and the UK remains a global economic powerhouse. But that’s only the beginning of the improvements we have seen this year.

Technological and medical progress continues apace. 2017 saw advances in robo-prosthetics, telemedicine, 3D-printing of body parts, stem cell research, and immunotherapy. The exchange of goods and ideas continues to get easier. Private space innovation company SpaceX launched – and landed – its first reusable rocket. Renewable energy technology gets cheaper and more efficient every day.

And in the social sphere, there is progress too. Saudi Arabia lifted the ban on women driving, while just two weeks ago the Australian parliament legalised same-sex marriage.

This year also, sadly, saw the death of Hans Rosling, the Swedish statistician who used data to challenge perceptions of development and spur international progress.

Rosling was famous for pointing out the undeniable advancements across the world, in defiance of pessimistic headlines. The share of people living in extreme poverty is down in every region of the world. Life expectancy is rising – both due to the sharp decline in infant mortality, and in terms of health in later life. In general, the world is becoming a richer, healthier, and happier place.

After the chaos and confusion of the last 12 months, we can honour Rosling’s memory by maintaining a sense of perspective and fulfilment this Christmas.

Rachel Cunliffe

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