The Korn Group

  • Australians are supposed to be happy

    • February 8, 2016
    • Neer Korn

    Australians believe that living in this great country, with all its blessings, it makes no sense to be anything other than happy. Being happy is, in fact, a status symbol in Australia today and so too is the imperative to project a content self to the world at large.

    In our latest study The Feel Good Edition: Attitudes to Happiness we spoke to Australians of all ages about the ingredients of a happy life and the tools in their arsenal for feeling better.

    Being aware of the serious problems engulfing many parts of the world, and having travelled to poverty stricken countries themselves, Australians constantly reaffirm that they are living in the lucky country. “How could we possibly not be happy?” is the question they ask themselves. “We’re pretty lucky to live here and we should be appreciative of being able to live in such a good country,” expressed one man, “ I’m not going to say it’s a perfect country, there’s a lot of problems, a lot of problems, but I’m happy to live here and I think we’re lucky to live where we live.”

    There is a common grievance, however, that we used to be a happier nation, back when life seemed much simpler. The older the person we spoke to the more intense this feeling was. The prevailing stress and busyness that has come to define modern life is deemed not have been present in decades past, or not as intensely. There was an innocence most noted by a lack of fear before stranger danger manifested itself. “When I was a kid you went to the beach and you didn’t get home as soon as the street lights were turned on,” said a man in his 50s. “Now days? Everybody is a paedophile and anyone with a tan and a backpack has a bomb in it.”

    There seemed to be less rules, regulations and signposts and people were freer to speak their mind before everything became so PC. “You could take the piss out of each other … Now somebody will sue or you will wind up in front of the HR Manager or whatever it happens to be. That takes the laugh out of it.” Not that anyone wishes to live in the past, just borrow from it some of things that would make them happier.

    Australians feel the need to put on a happy face as they interact with the world, whether they feel happy or not. As a nation we just don’t tolerate whingers much. And no one wants to exude negative energy and be seen to drag the group down. “We don’t want to hear sadness because to have someone constantly drain you, you don’t want to be near that person, because it doesn’t make you feel happy,” said one woman. Another expressed it even more succinctly, “I guess it’s like in the aeroplane, you just put the oxygen for yourself first and then you give to someone, but if there’s not enough then…”

    This is well manifest in social media profiles and postings. People share their idealised self and are constantly curating their image. As a whole the impression created is that people’s lives are far more exciting and upbeat than they actually are, leading many others to feel inadequate. “My best friend she suffers with really bad depression and she can’t go on Facebook because everyone’s so happy,” explained one young woman. Downcast postings are not socially acceptable. “Nobody wants to see that, ‘I‘ve had the worst day I’m so sick’, like I don’t really care,” said one young man. “I mean, if you’re really unhappy about it you need to talk to someone you can trust, not tell the world.”

    It’s not that Australians lack sympathy or empathy for those struggling to cope with life. They know so much more about mental health through very public campaigns and high profile sufferers sharing their experiences. They also know how prevalent it is having battled their own demons at times or having seen those close to them suffering. But if the feeling is so intense then its family, the closest of friends or professionals they feel sufferers should turn to, not their wider circle. As one woman simply put, “I don’t think anyone really wants to be around a Debbie Downer. I don’t.”

    Happiness is both a state of being but also a goal and an aspiration. While Australians believe some people are just lucky to be born with a happy disposition, most have to work at it. One woman said, “I’m a bit of a negative person. I constantly have to get rid of bad thoughts. I have to say to myself ‘change the channel’ and start again with a good thought.”

    The tools for happiness are many and we will explore some of these in a later post. A common thread among those Australians who site being most content is a recognition that the key to happiness is being appreciative of what they have and to see the glass-half-full “Be happy with the things that you have and don’t concentrate on the things that you don’t have,” is the mantra. And while it makes perfect sense, it is not so easily attainable, remaining a work-in-progress for many Australians.