Wednesday 21 August 2019

Happy and rich - do you recognise yourself, Ireland?

Studies show we're well ahead in terms of wealth and well-being. So why are we still complaining, asks our reporter

Happy place: the survey suggests the mists of negativity and austerity are finally lifting
Happy place: the survey suggests the mists of negativity and austerity are finally lifting

Tanya Sweeney

Another day, another survey delivering heartening news… and according to a London think tank, Ireland is one of the happiest and healthiest nations in the world.

The Legatum Institute this week released its annual Prosperity Index, looking at 142 countries under various categories such as economy, governance, education, health, safety and security social capital.

While Norway, Switzerland, Denmark and New Zealand topped the poll, Ireland jumped two places to land into the top 10, beating out Hong Kong, France, Spain and the UK.

It's the latest in a neat line of heartening research findings that hint that the mists of negativity and austerity are finally lifting on our little Ireland.

According to 2014's Good Country Index figures, we've taken the top spot as the best country to live in, too. Scoring high in the international security, culture, climate and well-being stakes, Ireland pipped Finland and Switzerland to the post in the UN data-led report.

The first Future of Ireland survey painted an image of an optimistic, progressive country. Our patriotism is as strong as ever, with 69pc of respondents in the survey saying they consider themselves as being Irish first, and European second.

A further 59pc reported being proud of our nation's achievements. Demonstrating the that entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and well in Ireland, the survey shows nearly a quarter expect to set up their own business.

The accolades keep pouring in from elsewhere, too: Lonely Planet said in 2014 that Ireland was one of 10 countries to visit next year, describing it as "the real deal", while the readers of Condé Nast Traveler voted four Irish Hotels - Kenmare's Sheen Falls ( (1), Mayo's Ashford Castle ( (2), Kildare's K Club ( (4) and Adare Manor ( (10) - into the travel bible's Top 10 European Resorts.

The magazine also deemed Dublin a "vibrant city" and a "bibliophile's dream". Last year, National Geographic reported was "blown away" by our vibrant food scene.

Evidence galore, then, that things are on the up and up. On paper at least, Irish pride is alive and kicking. But the question looms large; does this positivity actually translate into everyday, quotidian life?

Cast even the most precursory eye onto a Facebook or Twitter feed, and the same gripes surface time and time again: the Web Summit not as a triumph but as an omni-shambles; water charges; the gardai; the mercurial (fine, downright forbidding) Irish weather; the hangover of austerity that's impossible to sleep off.

Internet message-boards and forums are replete with commenters having to endure, as they tell it, sub-par transport systems, an ad-hoc government, a country that generally falls short of acceptable.

Sticking one's head above the parapet and doffing a cap to Ireland rarely seems to curry favour, either: Niall Harbison's blog Lovin' Dublin often extols the virtues of living in the capital, but when Harbison waxes rhapsodical about his city, comparing it to Berlin or London, his musings seem to fall on cynical, critical ears.

Yet, if we've officially never had it so good, surely many of us could do with… well, a sense of perspective?

For the sake of veracity, I did a quick straw poll among friends and colleagues to see if they actually do enjoy living in this new-look Ireland. Among the comments that boomeranged back were: "why, are you offering to send me somewhere else?" as well as various iterations of "if I could move my family and friends to Australia/France/Canada, I'd be there in a heartbeat". For reasons best known to themselves, no one could really readily admit to a soft spot for the old sod.

To my mind, there are a few factors that might just contribute to all of this. Perhaps, after the storm of austerity that nearly blew the hinges off the doors of Irish society, we're exercising a sort of caution.

Perhaps we're hesitant to believe that the good times are really back again. We're keeping counsel about our reported good fortune, because to flaunt and celebrate it is not in our nature.

It happened once before, during the Celtic Tiger, and it seems as though we've been atoning for our folly and our abominable swagger - the Swarovski chandeliers in the utility rooms and helicopters to the races - ever since.

Perhaps our reticence, our gravitational pull towards the negative, has to do with that most time-honoured of Irish pursuits: plain old-fashioned begrudgery, what Louis Walsh famously called the "Irish disease".

We are world champions at keeping our light under a bushel. Self-aggrandising is pure anathema to an Irish person. It's a wonder we didn't respond to the Legatum's Prosperity Index with a hearty "thanks, Penneys".

Additionally, the looking glass of social media makes grouchy, curmudgeonly critics of most of us. Facebook is, in the main, a happy place, but there's something weirdly cathartic about a good old gripe about the ways of the world on the site, not to mention the chorus of voices in agreement.

The fact remains; with or without the endorsements of surveys and statistics, there is plenty to love and live for here. The terrain. The windswept beauty. The culture. The beery romanticism. The history. The people-power that propels and creates and inimitable energy all of its own. Perhaps we need to quit griping about the evenings drawing in and the weather, and focus instead on the quiet, simple pleasure of an evening in front of a local pub's turf fire.

Irish eyes may not be smiling all the time, but if you look hard enough, there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful.

Irish Independent

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