The recent government inquiry into our happiness levels apparently revealed a new Blitz Spirit. It sees contentment flourishing in three quarters of the UK amidst economic difficulty. Don’t let the inconvenient fact that no one is actually invading or bombing London distract you from the Churchillian gist of this neo-Blitz mentality. This spirit is no hurrah for national loyalty amidst the inferno of firestorms and German warplanes, although counselor Christine Northam does see a “wartime nerve” in our determination to see this downturn through and emerge stronger for it.
The point is clear: money rules the world, but happiness is rarely dependent on external circumstances. I see the findings as evidence of a reorientation toward what really makes us happy: family, friends, relationships and the exploration of human meaning (religion, philosophy and more). It might be asking too much of the Government not to milk the statistics for a new PR campaign, but there is something inspiring and true in Londoners and Britons’ ability to see beyond the City’s machinations and see happiness for what it really is about: fulfillment of meaning, not monetary wealth.
The parallel isn’t completely random…
This nationwide feedback is the result of our Prime Minister’s £2 million project of a happiness index which could be used to frame government policy. But why not be more radical and introduce the Kingdom of Bhutan’s GNH (Gross National Happiness) Index to London? Just look at April’s Royal Wedding: some say the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge contributed to boosting British happiness and national pride. Bhutan coincidentally followed afterwards with the wedding of its Dragon King, easily the youngest and most handsome monarch in the world, to his bride, Jetsun Pema. It was not only a day of joy for the small kingdom, but for the Buddhist world too (Bhutan is a pious Buddhist nation).
Due to his education at Oxford, the King already enjoyed civilian ties to our country. But these ties were further cemented when he and his new Queen visited Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall at Clarence House last month. During this visit he was called to the Bar of England and Wales and made an Honorary Master of the Bench. So who’s to say we can’t learn from the social policies of another constitutional monarchy?
…report after report about diminishing prospects of employment, social mobility and property ownership…
Admittedly, London’s population alone is far larger than tiny Bhutan’s, and crafting GNH policy on such a different scale might inflict a real headache on Boris Johnson. Imagine trying to measure collective happiness at Soho, Piccadilly or Mayfair, or swinging by Dalston, Shoreditch or Farringdon to calculate how happiness can be lifted for the benefit of the youth there. Yet once again, here might await some Anglo-Bhutanese possibilities of mutual learning. A striking phenomenon about the Blitz Spirit was that it was young people – us – who felt the happiest and calmest, alongside those in retirement. This flies in the face of media wisdom, especially as we’re bombarded with report after report about diminishing prospects of employment, social mobility and property ownership for young people. But Mr. Cameron may have overlooked one force that overpowers pessimism and even optimism, a force that transcends the two dichotomies: hope.
We confuse hope with the conviction that something will turn out well, but hope is actually the confident feeling that something is meaningful, regardless of how it turns out (Weingarten, 2006). Therefore, when we hope, we are doing something even greater than being just optimistic: we can find meaning in the here and now no matter how the future looks, and even if the here and now is suffocated with economic and social gloom.