It turns out that in the US the happiness indicator peaked in 1956 and has been dropping ever since as people feel more unhappy with their lot in life. We do live in a time of very high anxiety. Despite the past decades of increasing wealth, there is vast insecurity, unrest, civil disobedience, and general dissatisfaction. Many have lost total respect for our leaders, lost trust in our institutions and built a mindset with a very scary view of the world around us. Again in the US, a large majority of Americans believe that the country is “on the wrong track”. Pessimism has soared as is indicated by the happiness indicator. The same is true in many other places around the world. If we look back one hundred years, Freud helped erase the prospect of happiness from our Western horizon—he said that the most we could hope for was the transformation of hysterical misery into common unhappiness—and now over the years, many of us have been brainwashed into concluding that happiness is somehow beyond our reach, a naive conjecture, an inspirational horizon, but truly an impossible dream. My view: Freud was wrong.
Here we are, the week after the Olympics. The Spice Girls have removed their make-up and disbanded again, David Beckham is back selling underwear, the Queen has given up her Equity card and Britain now looks back with pride on its greatest fortnight in recent history. Danny Boyle started the two weeks by reminding the UK of its glorious past and my take on his strategy was to build optimism for the future. Boyle used the Olympic flame to shine a light on all there is to celebrate about the heritage of the UK and the two weeks built upon that optimism. The GB team in their search for medals broke the sound barrier on the nation’s perception of failure and demonstrated a desire and drive that the UK culture thought it had lost forever.
For years, the favourite word of London’s Olympic organisers and our leaders has been “legacy”.
Politicians from all sides in any hosting country invariably promise great economic benefits. The Games were never articulated prior to the events as a fortnight of happiness. Politicians labored the point of how the Games would boost Britain’s economy and “inspire a generation” to play sport. We've all heard about the post-Olympic legacy promises: regeneration, affordable housing and sport engagement. Well, with over a billion pairs of eyes, from a large number of countries looking in, Britain did indeed “wow” the world. London's much criticised transport system swiftly, safely and daily carried over a million people around the capital. Tens of thousands of volunteers stepped up to the mark and greeted Olympic visitors with real enthusiasm. London, and the Brits, came alive with energy in a way not seen in our recent history. It does feel intuitive to me that hosting such a memorable event should leave a real legacy. The Olympics cost about £9bn of public funds and this was invested into sixteen days of fantastic sport. Of course that magnitude of spending should produce some economic payback and the UK balance sheet needs it as it floats further into a deep recession.
I have been listening to a range of economic experts and pundits of varying ilk, almost all agreeing that the UK will not get the economic boost that has been promised. Watch the politicians body-swerve that one. However, all of them seem to agree that Britain will probably get only one intangible benefit: increased happiness. In our own personal circumstances we all know that throwing a party costs money. We do it not for profits but for happiness. Even in these strapped times, for a nation that might be worth £9bn. London 2012 held up a mirror to a country with a glorious past, a paranoia about the future and a shattered self belief and we were all rather surprised and delighted by what we saw. The Olympics demonstrated that the UK can deliver quality, togetherness, professionalism, big things done in a big way by “big” people. I believe the legacy of these Games will be a massive boost to the UK national self-confidence, the nation’s self-belief and to the UK happiness indicators.
My hope for the legacy is that somewhere deep down in the British psyche, we smile at the world and that London 2012 has made the UK believe in itself again. Now for the Paralympics and more of the same please.