Tuesday, June 28, 2011


There's (another) spectre haunting Europe right now: it's the spectre of angst about the future. Even when that future looks - objectively - bright. It isn't only Europe that is affected: America, we're told, is suffering from an Optimism Deficit. Meanwhile back in Europe, Germany appears to be caught in a season of angst - despite record levels of growth and low levels of unemployment. As Canadian Doug Saunders reports about Germany's conflicted feelings about their economic success driven by globalisation and immigration:
So we have a situation in most modern economies (including Canada) where prosperity intensifies our connections, economic and personal, to the less secure countries of the world, and to their people. 
 That's certainly part of it all right. But beyond Germany there is another concern: that of stagnating incomes. As today's Financial Times reports, stagnating incomes is the new spectre stalking the globe.

Reading reports from the United States (especially in relation to housing, unemployment and consumer spending) it reads remarkably like the situation we have in Ireland right now. Which makes it all the more ironic that our Minister for Finance was quoted recently quoting George W. Bush after 9-11: the people need to spend, spend, spend to avoid recession. Though I'm not sure the Minister attributed his quote as such...

I think Minister Noonan needs to focus less on economics and more on 'emonomics'. By the latter I mean using the insights from behavioural economics and evolutionary psychology to better understand the needs of the Irish people. The better to motivate them perhaps. The chart shows a mood league table for Ireland: ranking the emotions Irish people feel the most (from a survey by my company earlier this month). The good news: happiness and enjoyment are the most prevalent emotions - well ahead of more negative emotions like stress, worry and - er - boredom.

Though I'm usually loath to begin sentences with the words 'the Government should' (I'm in the less-is-better camp when it comes to all things political), I'll make an exception in this case. The Government should do a better job of understanding the emotional world of Irish citizens and a better job of communicating a better, credible image of the future that inspires all of us to do our bit. Not just more shopping. 

The Futures Company have just published a useful primer on 'An Introduction to Happiness: Is It Your Business?' - even the busiest cabinet minister should be able to absorb its summary analysis.

Don't let angst and anxiety seize the emotional future.


  1. Absolutely agree.

    But perhaps we need to get a bit more in depth than the typical corporate perspective tends to.

    Some higher conceptions on this topic (and objective) that come to mind as being more pertinent, and indeed a better way to frame what it is we should be striving toward:

    Chris Argyris' immaturity / maturity theory - emotional health is dependent on people inhabiting an environment where they can 'mature'.

    - to move from a passive state to a state of increasing activity as adults.
    - to develop from a state of dependency upon others to a state of relative independence as adults.
    - to be capable of behaving in many ways as adults, as opposed to the limited behaviours that children are only capable of.
    - to have developed deeper and stronger interests as adults, as opposed to the erratic, casual, and shallow interests of children.
    - to have developed an increased time perspective as adults to include the past and the future. As opposed to the limited time perspective of children, involving only the present.
    - to have moved on from being subordinate to others, to have an equal position with others as adults.
    - to have developed an awarenes and control of "self."

    Also Jung's ideas about self-realization and how people need to explore and integrate the 'disowned' parts of themselves is a further and more profound development of this theme... the process of becoming an 'individual', that Jung called 'individuation'...

    My point being that there is currently a lot in our political culture, and corporate culture, and indeed, consumer culture, particularly in this country, that is bound to give rise to neuroses like angst and anxiety... since in general, the masses are expected and assumed to be practically as children or unindividuated (as above) in the bulk of their interaction with the state, and in their fulfilment of their roles as employees and consumers etc.

    Yes - in particular, being told to 'go shop' and put on the 'green shirt' and 'be optimistic' is absolutely counteractive to what our best scientists in the field have told us about how it really works.

  2. @roc. Excellent comment.


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