Are UK politicians and media peddling a self-fulfilling despondency?

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It’s human nature to complain.

Whether it’s about the weather, our neighbours, the government, or a myriad other things we choose to complain about every day.

Yet all of this has bad consequences. It makes us unhappy and saps the energy that drives progress.

It may be time to step back, look dispassionately at where we are and – Heaven forfend – even be thankful for what we have…

The latest United Nations Development Report said: ‘People’s perceptions about their lives and societies stand in stark contrast to historically high measures of aggregate wellbeing.’ Is this also true in the UK?

To evaluate this, at least in some small part, we published a short report on the State of Britain – as told in ten charts that compare the UK’s performance over the long term with that of four European countries of comparable size. Take a look at the charts for yourself and see what you conclude. 

People’s level of happiness is maybe best defined by the gap between expectations and reality. In this regard, excessive optimism may be problematic if it pushes expectation beyond what is reasonably achievable.

Constant complaining, on the other hand, also widens the gap between expectations and the achieved reality. The media makes its living off bad news stories with which we are constantly bombarded. Complaining about government seems to have become a universal sport.

Most of us have never had to take on the complex and thankless task of governing, yet we seem to have come to believe that we know better and that we could do better. Social media has become largely a repository of complaints and anger. How much of this is productive?

Can we achieve a useful balance between rosy optimism and realism?

Politically, it is hard to maintain a positive outlook while people are struggling with the cost of living, high energy costs, a war in Europe, climate change, an economy that is not growing at the pace of previous years, multiple strikes affecting people’s lives – and on it goes. “You’ve never had it so good” is not a politically viable slogan in these circumstances.

Yet neither is it good for anyone to promote a mood of despondency that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To discuss these issues, do join us for our webinar to discuss the implications of our State of Britain report February 2. 

After that, you can decide for yourself whether to take Voltaire’s view that “Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable,” or Helen Keller’s view that “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.”

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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