Bubble wrap: Susie Lau on finding happiness - without spending a penny

·3-min read
 (ES Magazine)
(ES Magazine)

News flash! Apparently money doesn’t buy you happiness. A recent survey from the Social Market Foundation, a non-partisan think tank, revealed that relatively affluent London boroughs such as Islington, Hackney and Camden rank among the lowest in the country in terms of their residents’ happiness and life satisfaction. Ditto for plummy Wandsworth and Westminster. Similarly, a few years ago, in an ONS survey, Islington also found itself bottom of the pile when it came to the question of whether one’s life was worthwhile.

Given that I grew up in Camden, lived in Islington for most of my 20s and have been ensconced in Hackney for most of my 30s (although now technically dancing on the edge in Haringey), the news that Farrow & Ball painted walls and stone’s throw access to oat milk flat whites don’t mean life’s a peach only confirms what I’ve long suspected anyway.

I’m imagining these think tanks phoning citizens up in their comfortable homes and asking, ‘Are you happy?’ or, ‘Is your life worthwhile?’ It would certainly be easy to slip into a full-blown therapy session with these survey strangers when attempting to answer such onerous life-goal questions. Being the nerd that I am, and wanting to probe deeper, I actually sought out the full SMF report to see exactly how they measured happiness. Obvious factors such as higher pay or being in employment yielded a fairly neutral or slightly lower score in life satisfaction. Living in areas with 4G and fast broadband dented the score even lower. When I see my phone flashing with news alerts about the bafflingly pointless Wagatha Christie trial, you can understand why being in 4G-heavy areas would depress anyone.

In more general terms, drawing from anecdotal and therefore completely unsubstantiated life evidence, our constant dissatisfaction with privilege correlates with the SMF findings. We oscillate from the buzz of affording nice things and then loathing being shackled to stuff. The litany of hashtag not grateful moments is huge. We curse Apple for the fact we have to buy 30 lightning cables a year but remain loyal to their products. It’s more than 25 degrees but how annoying that it’s making us sweat into our Acne T-shirts. Chuck in the all-important question of ‘Are we happy?’ and it’s no wonder behind the Bugaboo-pushing, artisanal coffee swigging and Pilates practising, something is amiss.

I’m painting an exaggerated bleak picture here but to express happiness openly is also to admit that there’s no further end goal to reach. And that is baffling to everyone I know who is depressingly tethered to the idea that there’s always something better out there. The other day, catching up with a friend who I hadn’t seen since before the pandemic, when asking how she was, the first thing she said was: ‘I’m really happy! Life is just really good!’ I found that simple declaration both flummoxing and refreshing. What happy Kool-Aid was she drinking and where can I get some? I should have asked her which borough she lived in.

Surveys like this one will only fuel the contingent of people leaving London in their droves. That messes up my not-so-secret agenda to make would-be city deserters stay in this great city. So now the Government has been tasked to ‘level up’ mental well-being in London. To cheer us up from our well-off-but-withered selves. Because our ministers surely know the key to true happiness.

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