Just one in ten Irish people between the ages of 18 and 34 considers themselves to be happy, according to these new figures from the CSO. The general level of happiness improves with age, but not by much. 14% of those who are aged between 35 and 44 say they are happy, and it rises to a high of 17% amongst pensioners.

What’s going on?

Well, most of it appears to be Covid 19. Overall happiness levels have dropped by about 30% since April 2019.

If we want to measure the mental health impact of the pandemic, this is pretty stark:

In 2018, just under two thirds (65.1%) of respondents aged 18-34 said they felt lonely None of the time in the four weeks prior to interview – this figure has decreased to 24.8% in April 2020. On the other hand, the share of respondents aged 70 and above who felt lonely None of the time has decreased from 53.1% in 2018 to 45.7% in April 2020.  Respondents aged 35-44 were the most likely to report feeling lonely None of the time in April 2020 at 50.7%, a decrease on the 2018 figure of 63.8%.

That makes sense. When you get to your late 30s and 40s, you’re normally married, or in a long term relationship, and have children. You’re probably living with a family of your own, which makes it less likely that you’ll feel lonely. The younger you are, the more likely you are to be stuck at home with your parents, and away from your friends.

Here’s something that’s fascinating though: We all feel much less healthy, all of a sudden:

During each reference period, respondents who described their health status as very good had the highest mean scores for overall life, financial, and personal relationship satisfaction, with scores declining as health status declined. The proportion with a High overall life satisfaction rating decreased for each health group in April 2020, with the largest decrease being for respondents who described their health as very good, falling from 58.7% in 2018 to 19.2%.

That makes no sense, when you think about it. Nearly four in ten of us feel less healthy than we did a year ago? What’s driving that?

The only explanation that comes to mind is the focus on “underlying conditions” and Coronavirus. Put simply, we all felt pretty healthy when the biggest threat to our wellbeing was a cold or the flu. Now that we might get Coronavirus, we’re all afraid of dying, and more conscious of our mortality.

And here’s a figure that will cheer up all the pro-marriage conservatives:

Married respondents were the most likely to rate their satisfaction with their personal relationships as High in 2013 (70.0%), 2018 (68.4%) and April 2020 (51.0%).  In both 2013 and 2018, just over 50% of single (never married) respondents rated their satisfaction with personal relationships as High, declining to 32.3% in April 2020.

In 2018, over 80% of both married and never married respondents reported being happy All or most of the time in the past four weeks, falling to 66.3% for married respondents and to 55.5% for those never married in April 2020.

In April 2020, 20.3% of married respondents said they felt lonely at least Some of the time in the past four weeks, compared to 33.3% of never married respondents.

There you go now, you’re measurably more likely to be happy if you are married.

And what’s more? You’ll be happier if you get out of the city:

Respondents living in urban areas were more likely to rate their overall life satisfaction as Low in April 2020 (30.9%), compared to rural respondents (26.9%).  Respondents in urban areas were also less likely to report being happy All or most of the time (58.0%), than those in rural areas (69.9%).

In April 2020, respondents living in rural areas were more likely to rate their satisfaction with personal relationships as High (45.1%), compared to urban areas (41.0%). 

What’s even more interesting is that although people’s satisfaction with their lives overall has cratered during the pandemic, the impact on financial satisfaction has been very, very, small:

The mean score for financial satisfaction was 5.5 in 2013, increased to 7.1 in 2018 and remained relatively level between 2018 and April 2020 (7.0).  The percentage of respondents rating their satisfaction with their household’s financial situation as High more than doubled between 2013 and 2018, rising from 12.9% to 28.0%, and decreased to 25.8% in April 2020.

So, it’s not really money that’s driving the collapse in personal happiness, which goes to show that my mother, and yours, were right when they told us that money can’t buy us happiness.

Anyway, that’s where we’re at: A country of miserable hoors, as they say in Cavan. The problem for politicians is that all this dissatisfaction hasn’t really yet resulted in any kind of political backlash against the Government. But it won’t stay like that forever. There are, as these figures show, a lot of upset people in Ireland. It’s a bad time to provoke them.