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We’re richer, happier, healthier — so why is it so hard for the Irish to feel it?

A new book tackles negative thinking about how ‘bad’ life in modern Ireland is

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Author Mark Henry

Author Mark Henry

In Fact: An Optimist's Guide to Ireland at 100

In Fact: An Optimist's Guide to Ireland at 100

Reasons to be cheerful: How Ireland has changed in 100 years

Reasons to be cheerful: How Ireland has changed in 100 years

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Author Mark Henry

There has never been a better time to live in Ireland. That is according to a new book, In Fact: An Optimist’s Guide to Ireland at 100, by psychologist Mark Henry.

It details the story of 100 remarkable achievements in as many years and illustrates how we are living lives our grandparents dreamed about.

For example, we spend more nights holidaying abroad than any European country, we earn five times more than our grandparents and work 20pc fewer hours than previous generations.

We also live in better homes with more comfort. We drink less, smoke less and have added a full generation to our lifespan.

“I wanted this book to be a celebration of how much we have achieved and how we got here. But I also wanted to show the challenges facing us as we go into the next century,” Henry said.

“Our living and housing standards have improved massively. I have a quote in the book that describes the ‘relentless but nearly imperceptible improvement in housing standards’. It’s so gradual you don’t even notice it happening.

“But if you go back to an extreme — 100 years ago — there were no bathrooms indoors, in the 1970s a third of households didn’t have a fridge and central heating wasn’t a thing.

“Nowadays, the quality of housing and the amount of time-saving appliances we have has mushroomed. On top of that, our homes have never been bigger and the number of people living in each has never been fewer.

“In the 1920s, the average family size in a house was between four and five people, who had to share an average of two to three rooms. Now there is an average of between two and three people in each house or apartment and they share an average of five or more rooms — excluding bathrooms.”

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Henry chose not to label housing as an area to be optimistic about. Instead, he said, it is a challenge we face, given the lack of ownership and rising homelessness.

Elsewhere in the book, he details how household wealth is at an all-time high and we are generally happier than ever. So why can’t many of us in modern Ireland feel it?

Henry explored one reason as he explained how scientists have discovered that “as problems become rarer, we count more things as problems”.

“There is a study I cite in the book that details how people were shown computer-generated faces and asked to point out the ones they found threatening,” he said.

“As time went on, and the number of threatening faces was reduced, they began labelling neutral faces as threatening, even if they had previously considered them harmless.”

Our negativity bias is also amplified by the 24-hour news cycle.

“One study has found people who followed media reports on the terrorist attacks on the Boston Marathon had more acute stress than the people who were directly exposed to the attacks, where a close relative or family member was present. The lesson here is to temper how much you listen to the bad news,” Henry said.

Among the challenges Ireland faces, he has included how fewer people than ever are voting and the fact we are Europe’s second-most expensive country to live in.


‘In Fact: An Optimist’s Guide to Ireland at 100’ is published by Gill Books at €24.99


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