Life, Love & The Pursuit Of Happiness

Great Britain


I’ve been researching for the final draft of the twelfth Bryant & May novel, and this question arose. Which countries work the longest hours? Does the amount you work relate to happiness?

The South Koreans put in the most work-time, with a massive annual total of 2,193 hours, followed by Chile at 2,068. In Europe the results get more interesting; reversing expectations, the Greeks are the hardest working nation, while the Germans work just 1,408 hours a year, and the supposedly workaholic Dutch come in bottom. Britain clocks in above them at 1,647 hours. The Spanish work harder, and the Americans manage the same number of hours as the English.

But that’s only part of the picture. Long working hours are associated with lower productivity and inefficiency, because we take longer to do the same tasks. So do the Greeks take longer to do the same tasks?

There are other telling signs about work and happiness here. The British plan their holidays further in advance than anyone else, probably to get away from the god-awful weather. So a look at the so-called Happiness Index reveals that the top ten places are taken by countries which are either cold, remote, or have never been to war (i.e. they have fewer borders, except for sinister little Switzerland, and if you’ve ever sat in a bar in Geneva listening to selections from ‘The Sound of Music’ played over and over you’d be hard-pushed to explain what they’re happy about).

It’s no coincidence that I’ve ended up in other countries throughout my life. I’m English but no Little Englander. I abhor nationalism and I have a love/hate relationship with London. But remaining happy in a city geared around making money is a constant fight. The French have been thinking about tackling the problem, and bless, have got it wrong again – they’re making it illegal to send work emails and texts out of office hours. Britain opted out of any such controls long ago, so we can die in harness; my partner and I both put in 60 hour weeks minimum, and that’s not including the weekends we work.

Whatever Happened To Agitprop?

Arriving back in Barcelona two days ago, I caught sight of myself in a mirror. I looked sick and worried. I’d been sleeping badly and working long hours, and I’d brought a virus with m from London. The light and noise pollution, and the plain old regular pollution of London (the worst in Europe) has not been addressed by the our government. But they’ve other things on their minds; making money for the top 1%, and sex, apparently.

Recently exposed for being drunk and holding an orgy on taxpayers’ cash (at the Tory Party Conference, no less), the MP involved, Iain Corby, has gone into hiding but ‘hopes to return to the commercial sector’. The occurrence comes amidst growing concern about Westminster’s drinking culture and suggestions that young researchers are bullied into accepting sexual advances from MPs. 

Back in the 1970s people would have taken to the streets about this sort of thing. Watching Mike Leigh’s ‘High Hopes’ the other day brought it all back – the late-night political rows, the issues of Time Out dedicated to legitimate protest – now it feels like we lived on another planet.

I have a copy of ‘The Time Out Alternative Guide To London’, which lists every political group you could join. Are people more satiated by materialism now? Even asking the question sounds outmoded and leftie-liberal. The truth, I imagine, is that nobody wants to return to the bad old days of rioting. And many of the protests were proven to be mere posturing; the Punk movement couldn’t wait to wreck its anarchist cred on fashion shoots, although at least the girls always looked like they were having fun – the boys merely looked shy or annoyed.

Where does all this leave us now? Watching ‘Game of Thrones’, I guess, and fantasising about having adventures. Anything to keep us happy.

4 comments on “Life, Love & The Pursuit Of Happiness”

  1. Jo W says:

    Can’t really comment on working hours, having been a ‘wife and mother’ now retired. But if you’re working too hard,Admin, then you should enjoy some well earned ‘down time’ over there in Barcelona- Enjoy! Btw, check your heading, someone’s taken the ‘P’.?

  2. Dan Terrell says:

    TMI warning here, perhaps.
    I find retirement – as they say – isn’t really the restful blessing one thinks. However, you frequently can do more of what you want, even though it isn’t always restful. In fact restful, while good, should be leavened with something more active or accountant’s butt (pardons extended to any accountants reading this.) and circulation problems will settle in, like department store-counter standees’ veins in the legs.
    So, long sitting is bad. Walks per day good.
    Get well, lower the stress. (If it helps you through comparison, they’ve just had me in hospital for two one-week stays – I looked and felt 90 and focusing for any length was a challenge. And this was coming on for two to three years not from sitting though. (It’s always better to have someone, perhaps, better worse off than you, right?)
    Stay out of Switzerland where if the Sound of Music doesn’t get you the costs of just about everything everyday will. (However, they do have a fantastic and sprightly Bach group that nearly makes you want to dance. Really and I’m not talking ecstatic religious twirling either.)

  3. Helen Martin says:

    I think the whole matter is personal. If your system says forget it, we’ve had enough, then listen. A friend says to put anxiety producing matters behind you as soon as possible. (That’s fine but you do have to deal with it in the meantime.) The warm, clean sunlight of Barcelona should induce a state of relaxation. Drink some wine, laugh with your partner – laugh a lot, every day, in fact – and get a good rest before you come back to London.

  4. admin says:

    The French timekeeping story has now been proven wrong – the story was started by a Guardian journalist who didn’t fact-check.

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