Merry Christmas 2013 !

December 23, 2013 By: Bjorn Rembacken

Some musings over traditional family values, happiness, consumption and the perils of having children late in life.

In the lead-up to Christmas, I came across a survey which asked people how much their happiness depended on material belongings rather than other things.  The Brits found themselves quite high up in the survey.  Unicef believes that this is the reason why British kids are unhappy .  Their analysis found child well-being in the UK at the bottom of a league of developed nations whilst the Swedes were second to the top

The Unicef researchers concluded that British parents work all hours to increase family income but are too exhausted and busy to give their children attention.  Naturally, the children themselves would prefer time with their parents to consumer goods. 

What can you expect in a country where the average age of having children is 30 (the highest on record until we see next years figures).  The Unicef finding are little wonder as British parents in their late 30’s and 40’s find themselves cash-rich and time-poor.

The researchers commented that;  “We were struck by the volume of toys in the UK…”. “Our ethnographers observed boxes and boxes of toys, many of which were broken, and children appearing to 'rediscover' toys which they had even forgotten that they owned. Parents spoke of having to have 'clear-outs' of children's toys in order to make room for new things…”.  “One mother in the UK felt that she had bucked the trend because as she told us, “I don’t buy something for the girls every time I go out”. 

It's all about values and the "World Values Survey", has monitored these values for a long time.  Of particular interest is the “Inglehart-Welzel” graph.  In this graph “survival values” are plotted close to the intersection of the X-axis (which places a priority of security over liberty, disapproval of homosexuality, acceptance of repressive, authoritarian regimes, distrust in outsiders etc) and “self-expression values” (acceptance of homosexuality, democracy, trust in outsiders) at the right hand end of the X-axis.  At the Y-axis there are “traditional values” (religiosity, national pride, respect for authority, obedience and marriage) close to the intersect and “secular-rational values" (secularism, cosmopolitan orientation, non-violent protest and individualism) at the top end of the Y-axis.  They concluded that values of a society moves from the bottom left part of the plot towards the top right as peoples sense of security increases and societies move from agricultural to industrial and then to “knowledge societies”.  Interestingly, the advance from bottom left to top right is also mirrored by the empowerment of women and increasing happiness.

However, in the above survey it was the Chinese who were the most likely to link material belongings with happiness.  I must admit that this did not surprise me. I recall a conversation I had with a Chinese girl from Singapore.  On asking what she looks for in a man, she answered “the 5 C’s of course – every Singapore girl knows these”.  Innocently, I proposed that these would be;  “Cheerful”, “Colourful”, “Cerebral”, “Charming” and “Clean” (an inspired guess as Singapore is a very clean place).  No, she replied, the Five C’s are: “Credit Card”, “Club Membership”, “Condominium”, “Cash” and “Car !”.

These C’s are largely wasted on a Swede as the above survey found that Swedes were the least likely to link material goods with happiness.  This must be why I have little enthusiasm for buying Christmas presents.  Luckily my wife has stepped into the breech and now does all the Christmas Shopping. Unfortunately, she steadfastly refuses to buy her own!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all of you !

About the author

Bjorn Rembacken is at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, UK. He was born in Sweden and qualified from Leicester University in 1987. He undertook his postgraduate education in Leicester and in Leeds. His MD was dedicated to inflammatory bowel disease. Dr Rembacken was appointed Consultant Gastroenterologist, Honorary Lecturer at Leeds University and Endoscopy Training Lead in 2005. Follow Bjorn on Twitter @Bjorn_Rembacken



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