Good news: Summer is the time of year when we are most likely to be at our happiest. Of course this fact doesn’t take anyone’s personal circumstances into account, but is based on a series of biological, physiological, social and scientific facts (the human stuff is more difficult to quantify outside of Facebook status updates).
And happiness makes the world go round. Or is that love? No wait, it was money wasn’t it? Or maybe it was just the gravitational pull of the sun all along; who knows. Regardless, happiness is the emotion we all spend our lives in the relentless pursuit of, and is increasingly considered to be the only practical measure of social progress. The World Happiness Report (which started in 2012 and is now relied on as a pretty solid metric to gauge global contentment), looks at obvious factors for happiness like health, life expectancy, social freedom and the absence of persecution and corruption. No mention of SPF or chilled cider in that list, which makes my associations with summer and happiness more than a little tenuous. But we know it to be true in this little country at least.
Longer days give us more time to live outside of work (or in a lot of cases, sit in beer gardens), we get vitamin D from the sun (and at the first glimpse of its rays, many Irish people are happy to try and stockpile a lifetime’s supply in one afternoon), and for many the “School’s Out!” mentality continues long into adulthood. Workplace rules soften, the assumption being that we won’t get many sunny days, so let’s get out and enjoy them while we can. A good Irish summer results in thousands of lost work hours, thereby presumably making Autumn a lot less happy for businesses. In Winter time, we rely too heavily on funny cat videos and alcohol for our lols, whereas in the Summer months we can find them outdoors, in actual nature and in….well, who am I kidding, also alcohol. Alcohol features actively in Summer too. Irish people tend to do a lot of things around booze – celebrate, commiserate, grieve, socialise, sympathise, wallow; you name it, we’ll raise a drink to it. We’re also not nearly as concerned about being “beach-body ready” as advertisers seem to think we should be. No sir, if the sun’s out and we have a body, it’s beach ready; QED. Who knows when we’ll get such good drying weather again.
A discussion on this subject with a few colleagues last week turned up the same consensus – summer intrinsically makes us happier. One woman added that she thought if Irish people had sunny weather all year around, we’d be the happiest people on earth; “Like Madagascar!” she added. I pointed out that Madagascar is actually 144th on the 2017 happy index (bearing in mind, there are only 196 countries) and has only recently begun to extricate itself from years of rampant corruption - David Schwimmer’s giraffe character from the eponymous movie never mentioned that, (and yes, I can be a pain in the arse when I’ve done my research). “Oh”, she said. “Well, you know what I mean” casting me a look that was the opposite of happy. We did know what she meant.
Back to the parameters of happiness: despite our annual rainfall, lack of all-year-round sunshine, and taking into account our lifestyle and social freedom (before anyone shoots me down about the things that are still wrong with our society, I’m talking about relative to say, North Korea), we should be pretty high up on that happy list shouldn’t we? We came 15th this year. Higher than Germany and the UK, but just behind the US (who I suspect may fall dramatically down the list next year).
Fifteenth?? Who the hell are these countries that are happier than us? How much sunshine must these smug sods have?
Not much as it happens. The top five happiest nations in the 2017 index were Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland and Finland. Wait. Norway? Have these people not seen Fortitude? Mind you, that may be as unfair as judging our happiness levels by Fair City so let’s strike that from the record.
So maybe it isn’t down to sunshine after all. Or more likely, happiness is subjective and much more difficult to define than a list might imply. We are so lucky on this little island of ours: yes, our government drives us insane, we have crisis after crisis, and myriad problems to fix. But comparatively, our experience of social injustice and corruption barely registers on a global scale, and if sense of humour and beer gardens were taken into account, we might well be top of that happiness list.
Here’s to a great Irish summer, with all those extra daylight hours to live, love, laugh and hopefully not drink too much; now if I could just take that advice myself….
Originally published in Image Magazine, June 2017