How much happiness is there in our political system?

I’m neither Labour nor Conservative. I am human though. You are too. And like me you probably want to feel happier in your day to day life. Though, whenever I’ve engaged in politics I feel decidedly less happy. I’ve wondered how much happiness there is for anyone that engages in it actively.

Tired and abused

I can’t think of a Prime Minister that has aged well. It is a decidedly stressful job. When I first saw Boris Johnson in an interview a few weeks after he became Prime Minister he already looked haggard. I found myself wondering whether he was actually happy with his life.

Jeremy Corbyn claimed that he had received “more personal abuse than any other leader has ever received by many areas of the media”. Whether the claim is accurate or not, I felt distressed whenever I read people’s responses to many of the things that he posted on Twitter. I really felt for the man.

It wasn’t just Jeremy Corbyn. Whenever I took time to read any comments in response to a political statement from any politician there were always insults, jeering, or hard abuse somewhere. And each insult was countered by another insult from all manner of people across the political spectrum. There are some angry people out there. I feel for them too. At times I got lost in it and ended up feeling sick to the stomach and anxious. I’d forget what I had come online for in the first place.

Is there any happiness getting into politics?

I’ve always wondered why people become politicians. It has never looked like an easy job to me. They’re under constant pressure to make decisions that can have profound effects on people’s lives. There’s no let up. I suppose people get into politics because they believe it will bring them, and those they care about, more happiness. That seems to be just like any human doing anything. We do our best, yet we often get it patently wrong so much of the time. And maddeningly we might keep doing some of those things because we believe that eventually they will bring us happiness. Yet they often don’t.

(What is happiness? Here’s a blog post) 

The classics that many reach for to make them happy is money, status, and/or power. But in doing so what really matters for happiness often gets sacrificed – relationships, health, nature, integrity. . . And in any case money, status, and power, rarely bring that much in the way of happiness for those that have it. Yet so many remain convinced that it will. When and if they get it, there is always that sense still a little bit more is needed for happiness.

It is perhaps even more maddening when we see others acting to have more money, status, and power at our expense, as well as their own. Yet we often only see how it hurts us and it looks like those in power just couldn’t care. Much of the time they’re probably doing something they genuinely believe to be the right thing for themselves and others. Maybe they are are misguided, maybe they are not. I have a tendency to feel rage when I see such things. Though I don’t think expressing that rage helps.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.


Polarised population

Whenever I rage, others rage in return. No-one listens. We just react. We polarise. I’m right, and your wrong. Yet the reality is we all hold a part of the solution. And we won’t get there by drowning out other people’s voices – no matter how unpalatable those voices may sound to us. What is contained in the insults, the jeers, and the abuse, that I read are long ignored and forgotten voices desperately struggling to find some expression. They are unpleasant, but they are a representation of what our democratic system has become.

Unless looked for, it is difficult to find things that challenge our beliefs. The online filter bubbles keep us away from things we don’t want to see. Thus, we tend to think that most people think the same as us. On the one hand this may make us believe that our political thoughts, no matter how unpleasant and abusive to others, are justified. However, on the flip side they can also give people a false sense of hope that many others hold their views. Thus, when the reality of an election result hits home then there may be more unhappiness than there otherwise would be if we had seen a balance of views.

In seeing less ideas to counter our own it may keep people away from each other and minimising abuse. However, I suspect that the way we are segregated online enhances the polarisation of our political debate and when we do happen to come across differing views increases the tendency to insult, jeer, and abuse. We will all struggle to find happiness if we don’t talk.

Happiness ahead

I have no idea whether happiness will rise or fall over the next 5 years with a Conservative government. The issue of Brexit aside, which dominated this election, Labour had more policies that would increase people’s happiness – such as a shorter working week, higher investment in schools, and consideration of future generations. Though, according to the Office for National Statistics the number of people in the UK reporting they are satisfied with life, are happy, feel life is worthwhile, and have low anxiety has been increasing anyway with the Conservatives. Thus, there is a fair chance happiness might increase further. But what about those at the other end of the spectrum – those who have chronically low levels of happiness and well-being? Are there lives also getting better? The data isn’t so enthusiastically reported. Yet we know that mental ill-health is worsening.

Over the next 5 years climate issues will worsen and it is unclear how much time we have to make necessary changes to support our children and our children’s children. What supports our happiness now might not be feasible for others in years to come. Being so fixated on Brexit in the past years we have not gained a true appreciation of how much a threat climate change could be to our way of life. Nature is bigger than all of us.

Frankly, green issues are what bother me the most. But in this election, like many issues, there was no space for them. Without proportional representation we will remain polarised. We will have the Conservatives until they mess up, and then it will be Labour again until they mess up. And so on. Each time swathes of the population will go unrepresented – festering and angering. We need genuine discussion of issues that people care about and that will come through learning to collaborate at all levels of society. Happiness is always more likely when we come together

In the meantime, Scotland will push to leave the union. And since Scotland are one of the countries that are leading the way in well-being policy that would make the rest of the union a much sadder place.


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