Not a bad little country to live in

The Ipsos MRBI 50th anniversary poll shows that even in the wake of the economic crisis 89 per cent of Irish people are happy. The highest proportion of happiness is found in Munster and Connacht/Ulster, at 92 per cent, followed by 86 per cent of people in Dublin and 84 per cent in the rest of Leinster. Among the 42 per cent who are very happy, middle-class people are doing somewhat better, at 49 per cent, than the working class, at 37 per cent. At 45 per cent, women are happier than men, who rank at 38 per cent.

How do we manage to stay so happy? Well one reason is that 99 per cent of people think having a positive outlook is what is most important in life, the same priority we put on being healthy. It’s a sentiment I have heard repeated when I travel around the country talking to people.

It also helps that we have a high opinion of ourselves, with 89 per cent endorsing ourselves as welcoming, 89 per cent as proud to be Irish, 86 per cent as educated and 71 per cent as honest and hardworking.

With regard to stress and anxiety, 21 per cent describe themselves as relatively stress free, and more so men, at 25 per cent, than women, at 18 per cent. At 30 per cent, there are considerably more over-55s in this stress-free zone than in the 34-55 age group, which numbers 13 per cent, or even in the younger age group, at 22. The majority, 49 per cent, say they are “stressed and anxious occasionally but it is not a problem for me”, with more endorsing that view in Munster, at 53 per cent, and in Connacht/Ulster, at 55 per cent, than in Dublin and the rest of Leinster, which number 45 per cent and 46 per cent.

Farther up the scale, 24 per cent say they have a lot of stress although they can cope with it. There is more stress among the 34-55 age group, the “Squeezed Middle”, at 30 per cent than in younger groups, at 22 per cent, and older age groups, at 20 per cent. And it is a more common condition for Dubliners, at 35 per cent, than for those in the rest of Leinster, at 24 per cent, in Munster at 16 per cent or in Connacht/Ulster, at 20 per cent.

An astonishing 71 per cent declare themselves perfectly happy with their standard of living. This is particularly true for middle class people, at 78 per cent, as well as for 67 per cent of working-class people.

There are regional variations. At 78 per cent and 74 per cent respectively, people in Munster and in Connacht/Ulster are considerably more satisfied than the 68 per cent of people in Dublin or 67 per cent in the rest of Leinster. And there are differences across age groups, with 80 per cent of over-55s more satisfied than younger age groups.

Of course, money is an issue for everyone, rich and poor. The majority, at 76 per cent, say they want to save but find it hard, even though 68 per cent say they are very good at managing money and 86 per cent say they watch all the money they spend more carefully now and 90 per cent don’t like the idea of being in debt.

With regard to the future, 82 per cent of us are feeling optimistic about ourselves and our families, and 75 per cent about our own communities. But our optimism drops to 58 per cent when we think about the future of Ireland in general, and for Europe it is down to 50 per cent.

This distinction between private and public optimism is quite common, suggesting that we see ourselves and our local communities as quite capable of weathering the storm but we harbour doubts about the body politic to make things better.

The results of the survey bear this out, revealing our pretty dismal view of politics. When asked whom we would trust to tell the truth, Irish politicians came bottom of the pile at 17 per cent, considerably lower even than our trust in European politicians, at 25 per cent. At 18 per cent, Government Ministers did little better.

Trust in business leaders was double that, although still relatively low at 38 per cent, and a little higher again, at 42 per cent, for journalists.

So who do we really trust? Eighty per cent say the Garda, 82 per cent say the ordinary man or woman in the street and a whopping 90 per cent of Irish people trust doctors.

The Catholic Church will find little reassurance in this survey. While 90 per cent of people describe themselves as Catholic, only 37 per cent attend Mass at least once a week. Weekly attendance is lower again in Dublin, at 28 per cent, and falls to 17 per cent among the 18-34 age group. Connacht/Ulster remains the most faithful redoubt.

Some 92 per cent of us still believe in God and 82 per cent believe in heaven but at 54 per cent, we have largely dispensed with hell. However, we have pretty comprehensively rejected the Church’s views on major issues. A strong 84 per cent say priests should be allowed to marry, with the same level of agreement in faithful Connacht/Ulster as in Dublin. Women priests should be allowed, according to 80 per cent of people.

When it comes to what influences our thinking and opinion most, a staggeringly low 1 per cent of people choose the church, the Government or politicians. Our family and friends influence 62 per cent of us, and 33 per cent rely on the media.

But in many other respects, life goes on much as before. We manage to balance the traditional pastimes with the new. On Sundays, 95 of people still visit or are visited by family or friends. More than half of us still read papers and go for a walk and 47 per cent still go for the traditional drive or spin, although 50 per cent manage to go online as well. When asked what we would miss most if they were gone, 93 per cent say trees in the countryside, but 83 per cent would also miss mobile phones, 82 per cent the television and 69 per cent would miss the internet.

All in all, absent the politicians and, even in the recession, we don’t seem to think this is a bad little place to live.

Originally published in The Irish Times 

Posted: 01 December 2012