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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Pre-war Britons 'were happier'
Neville Chamberlain and Ramsay Macdonald
Was life better under prime ministers Neville Chamberlain and Ramsay Macdonald?
British people were happier in the depression of the 1930s than they are now, researchers have claimed.

The Cardiff University team said that people were more content in pre-war Britain, despite poorer living standards and more unemployment.

Professor Mansel Aylward, who led the study, said health care and wages had improved in the last 70 years, but expectations had also gone up.

But historian Dr John Davies said life in the 1930s was "less comfortable".

Around 500 people of all ages were interviewed in the survey, which is part of a five-year study into happiness and health at the university's school of psychology.

Professor Mansel Aylward, 62, said: "The evidence so far and from other research we've looked at shows levels of happiness have not increased since the 1930s.

From 1930s to now
Average salary - 200: 22,000
Three bed house - 350: 143,000
Pint of beer - 2p: 1.96
Life expectancy (women) - 59.5: 80.4
Life expectancy (men) - 52.9: 75.9

"When measures of happiness were first introduced in 1950 and we compare them with what we are getting now, clearly the society of today is very much less happy.

"If you go back to the 1930s and look at the sorts of issues that are commonly been associated with people being happy, then it is very likely people were more content, even with more difficult lives, in the 1930s.

"What comes top of the list are family relationships, close support, feeling of belonging, which was much more prevalent in the 1930s. And personal and spiritual values, these are very important.

"Nowadays people have a better health care system, they're earning more, 96% have a colour television and 98% have access to their own bath. But our expectations are greater."

Historian Dr John Davies said higher unemployment and levels of disease made life much more uncomfortable in the 1930s.

Ironing
Housework is marked as one of the most unpopular activities

"I have heard the same comments made about places like India - it seems condescending," he said.

"It is true families were closer, but they could be horribly suffocating. I think now is always better."

But writer Elaine Morgan, 84, said it was partly nostalgia, but spoke of greater feelings of fellowship and equality in the 1930s.

Researchers have also found that the optimum time for feeling happy is around midday and just before bed.

They also claim the things that people most dislike include travelling to work, handling e-mails and housework.

Sex is the activity which makes us happiest, with socialising and relaxing also rated highly.

Earlier this year, Cardiff University's Dr Cliff Arnall claimed Friday 24 June was the happiest day of 2005, and that Monday 24 January was the most depressing.

Is the past always better? What gets you down about modern life, and what would you bring back from the past if you could? Below is a cross-section of your views:


If I could buy a 3 bedroomed house for 1.75 times my salary and a pint of beer only cost 2p I'd be happy now. I don't thing people are less happy now. People are more aware of what life can offer them nowadays, especially women. In the 1930's a young lady would be expected to get married, have children and stay at home. How many women today would be happy if that was still the case?
Dave, Wales

Looking at your "From 1930s to now" table, it's incredible to see that a three bed house was 1.5 times average salary then, whereas it's now 6.5. Just as well that we're living so much longer. We need it to pay the mortgage!
ChrisW, Scotland

I work damn hard earn my money so why can't I go on nice holidays and drive a nice car. I recycle as much as possible and I'm got to my neighbours. I get a bit fed up of people maoning about how life was so much better in the past and how people had more respect. All I have to say is shut the heck up and live your life and quit moaning
Christopher Matthews, UK

Could it be that in the 1930s people were more content and realistic about what they had or could achieve because our modern agressive all-prevalent advertising and credit culture had yet to be born? I try to live within my means, refuse to own a credit card, but everywhere you look there are messages designed to undermine your confidence in terms of the things you have, or supposedly need to help boost your "status" (read self esteem). Its depressing. No wonder so many people feel unhappier now trapped in a debt spiral through being sold empty dreams.
Caz, Ilford, Essex

According to the comparison table, a house used to cost 1.75 x your annual salary which translates to a 3 bed house costing 38500 today. How nice would that be!
Iain, UK

I would disagree with the idea that people were more happy in the 1930's. Besides the unemployment and povety you had Adolf Hitler and the threat of a new world war. People worked long hours often in a dangerous environment. I think we are looking through rose coloured glasses at the 1930s. In fact even compared with 20 years ago things are better. Problem is that in the UK we tend to always look back to the golden years and think how much better it was. And what is wrong with expections? They motivate people to strive to work harder to do more to complete them. My son who is 16 doesn't seem to think that life owes him anything he can't earn.
Simon Campbell-Smith, Farnham, Surrey

In the 1930's people wouldn't admit to being unhappy in case they were accused of being dangerous radicals. And "closer family relationships" included throwing your unmarried daughter out of the family if she became pregnant.
Jo Edkins, Cambridge, UK

It's a GREAT thing that the class system is on it's knees and that people no longer prepared to accept their, 'station' in life. It's true that society has become more selfish as a whole but at least people can (if they apply themselves) make whatever they want of their lives.
KB, Rochester UK

I think the complexity of modern life leaves one yearning for the simpler existence, and happiness, one enjoyed as a youngster. Even in the 1960s there was less to play for and easier ways to be satisfied and, therefore contentment.
Mark Wheeler, Chippenham, Wiltshire

What utter rubbish. The Golden Age is NOW!! We are living in it! An age of unprecidented general wealth, health and leisure amongst the majority of the population. Never have so many had it so good.

No-one has to 'know their place' and technology has resulted in impressive freedoms.
Dr Nick Ashley, Huntingdon Cambs

I feel that the 1930's may have been harder but that's what would of made people more aware of what truly would made them happy - happy family, evenings spent quietly or not so quietly with friends, sunday dinners with the family ect. Where today we have lost most of our time with our familys and friends because most of us are driven by a need to keep up with the Jones also in order to keep what we have one must work constantly - leaving us always thinking we must have more or what we have is not enough. Where in the end it does not matter ,all that does matter is if one made the time to love and be loved by those around us. For you can not always take your things with you but if someone loved you and you loved someone than you will all ways be remembered. It's one's loved ones that make one rich, not what one has in possesions.So ya I think people may have been happier back than.
Glenna, Lacombe, Canada

Life was better in the 1930s was it? The decade that helped spawn some of the worst dictatorships and incidents of human cruelty (but then it is only today's society that is arrogant and selfish isn't it?) As a working class girl who got into Oxbridge and who has had a highly successful and satisfying career I am glad that I was not around back then. While there may be problems with today's society (when wasn't there?), I am far happier that I didn't "know my place," but was given the opportunity to reach my full potential (which incidentally Oli of Deeside, I did through hard work and considerable skill).
VJ, London

Happiness is a relative term, and differs among individuals - so how can anybody say people were happier in the 1930's? My grandmother lived through the 1930's and lived until the 1990's - she applauded every new advance in technology and gloried in holidays abroad. Those researchers should go figure that one!!
Chris, Crawley, Sussex

The press gets me down today as they come out with so many untruths and are so negative towards this country. Capital punishment should be brought back as, unfortunately, the kids growing up today are full of anger (although they have so much to be grateful for) and seem intent on committing crime and murder.
Katarine Mann, Solihull

Society has changed completely and it is now all blinkered "me, me, me" trying to "keep up with the Jones". I was brought up in the old style and live within my means, repairing and recycling rather than replacing but the modern throw-away society of wanton waste and advertising brainwashed individuals is in my opinion where things have gone wrong. The move to where the work is, coupled with the reduction in people following their parents (i.e. farming) means that families do become fragmented.
D Gwillim, Bristol UK

Could it not be that people from the 1930s might complain that they have no access to health care, they earn very little, have to use an outside toilet, and couldn't afford a holiday outside of these shores, not to mention a car? We always want what we don't or can't have - this study just confirms that people will always want it all.
Rob, Swansea

Happiness is about the scale of your aspirations. My grandparents were happy with a two up two down, my parents with a semi. Generations later, I'd only be happy with a rugged mill house in France!
Clare Too, Paris, France

Many, many years ago when I was a child, life was simpler. It was quieter and less crowded. Thanks to the wonderful stem of technology we can be anywhere in the world, we can be contacted any time and we can migrate to where the money is.
Brian, Finland

We don't need material wealth to be happy - Caterham cars get us from A to B no better than a clapped out Mini. People are too indulged. My father didn't see a grapefruit till he was fifteen!
Josh Lyman, Nottingham, UK

Josh Lyman is correct about grapefruits. The idea that we should pine for the days when people had no ambitions to own or capability of ever owning quality goods and exotica such as Caterhams, grapefruits and coconuts seems ridiculous. As Dr Davies says, life was less comfortable, and days to the beach were few and far between.
Richard Garibaldi, London, UK

The reason that people were happier is that the "lower orders" felt that knew their plae in life.

Prince Charles was right when he said that modern life encourage people to have unreasonable expectations - would life be so much worse without grapefruit on every table?
Eddie Willers, Berkshire, UK

There is now much more money-driven anti-social competition between people for status. We have become a highly divided society of individuals constantly measuring our perceived worth, importance and standing according to how much we earn, where we live, what we wear, what car we drive etc. It's just another example of Capitalist Money Madness.
Jess Terr, London

Expectation is the magic word. People knew their place. The class structure made everyone's life much easier in that respect. Today, kids are led to believe all they need to do is to want something enough, and they will get it (no hard work, skills, or connections needed). It is bound to end in tears!
Oli, Deeside

This demonstrates quite clearly that society has been consumed by capitalist money madness in the intervening years. We are now the court jesters to a financial system that no longer rewards us with the fruits of our labours.
Alan Bartlebooth, London, United Kingdom




SEE ALSO:
Cheer up for year's happiest day
24 Jun 05 |  South East Wales


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