The title of this post was one of the questions an economist from a major French banking group asked the audience during a lecture to Franco-German business group yesterday evening. His answer was a resounding “no”. On two measures, he argued, employment and consumption, eurozone citizens have fared far worse than their counterparts in the US, UK or Japan.
We live on the second floor of an old three-storey apartment building, without elevator. From the street level to our floor, there are precisely 59 steps. I can’t remember the day I first counted them, but it must have been when my son was a little baby. I would bundle him under one arm, hoist a clutch of shopping bags on the other, and clamber the two flights. Since then, though, he has become so heavy (the shopping too), this feat is no longer possible. I have to bring the shopping to the top first and then come back down for him.
The Bloomberg anchor-woman was to blame. She started it. Right at the outset of a TV interview with a Global Head of Economic Strategy, she decided to limit the scope of the discussion about the world’s ills to one region: Europe. She then further sub-divided the Europe issue into a simple question: “Will Greece exit the eurozone or not?” It was almost as if this binary yardstick could adequately measure the goodness or otherwise of future outcomes for investors or for viewers in general.
I have had many and varied experiences with the major hotel chains and their individual establishments. Some have been good, but most have been a let-down. So I tend to aim high when choosing a hotel in the hope of avoiding the worst. That was my thinking when I reserved a room at the five-star Ritz-Carlton in Berlin; my belief was that one couldn’t go too far wrong with that.
That mothers multi-task, manage households with meagre budgets, and are concerned about providing adequate guidance to their kids, is well-known. But when a survey of 4,000 mums confirms these realities the mother in me feels appreciated. I also felt good that the survey was called Mumdex, the name that drew me to the Financial Times article in the first place. The article revealed that 75 percent of mums surveyed in the UK were worse off than a year ago, and that 93 percent had altered their lifestyle to adjust to new economic realities. A large number of them had even resorted to loans to make ends meet.
A few days ago I read a story in the New York Times about how an entire village cleaned up at Spain’s big national Christmas lottery. Sodeto, located about three hours’ drive north-west of Barcelona, distributed more than €100 million to its 250 inhabitants, most of them farmers
All too often the main obstacle to our happiness is us. It is not as if we do not know what makes us happy. Most people intuitively know that the chance to spend more time with our friends and family, sleeping well at nights, and maintaining a healthy body and mind, are all recipes for wellbeing. However, when it comes to making a lifestyle decision, these are seldom the ingredients we choose.
Money doesn’t buy happiness, but what about gold? At least, this must be the idea of the increasing number of people who have taken to the rivers to pan for gold in in recent months. They can count themselves very lucky if they find a few grains of gold dust. But most of these modern-day prospectors are in it for the fun anyway, even if secretly they hope to stumble across a nugget or two.
Looking for happiness? Don’t overlook your chances at work. No, I don’t mean flirting with the secretary or making redundant calls to the guys on the IT help-desk. Even though it is generally thought that a bit of flirting can brighten up an otherwise dull working day, raise productivity or even improve career chances, it probably won’t make you happier on the job.
The most vocal Greek government officials these days seem to work either in the prime minister’s office or at the finance ministry. Over the weekend, though I read some disturbing comments from the health minister. Apparently, the suicide rate in Greece will probably see an increase of some 40 percent this year. The report reminded me of the situation in Ireland two years ago when the suicide rate rose by a quarter. The country was also roiled by a debt crisis. To put it into context, more lives were lost in the Republic to suicide than to road accidents in that year.
I was a guest at yet another wedding last Friday – the third in as many weeks. Wedding fever is everywhere around me, so much so that I feel like a deviant for not having already had a wedding dress fitted or for not having browsed any brides’ magazines. How many times in these three weeks have my boyfriend and I had to suffer someone coming up and asking: ‘Do I hear wedding bells for you two?’
Back in February, at the height of the Arab Spring, we proposed a happiness measure calculated by Gallup as an indicator for the likelihood of protest. Even though demonstrations had already spread across much of North Africa by then, it was the situation in Saudi Arabia and the stability of its oil output that interested most observers. Using the Gallup data, we noted that wellbeing ratings in places like Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen and Libya had been in low-teens or even single-digits prior to the uprisings, whereas some 43 percent of Saudis had described themselves as thriving.
A little over a month ago the Fukushima catastrophe was on round-the-clock television and Geiger counters sold out in Germany and in California. The whole world seemed panicked, fearing that the worst was still to come. Meanwhile the situation in Japan hasn’t changed all that much, but one would have to look long and hard to find any current news on the disaster. For instance, most of the world never even heard that another atomic power plant leak was reported in Tsuruga, some 360 kilometres away from Fukushima, at the beginning of May.
The pursuit of happiness, guided by the question of what it is and how it is found, is presumably as old as mankind itself. One oft-mentioned formula for deriving well-being and contentment is to ‘pay it forward’ – by doing something nice for someone else, our own happiness increases manifold.
‘Hope springs eternal’, they usually say when you’re standing with your back against the wall. In truth however, this well-meant observation describes a tendency – hoping endlessly for an exit from a miserable situation – that can be counterproductive and even debilitating. Studies show that patients manage to do better when they feel certain about health and sickness.
The world is presently concerned that the wave of democratic revolution surging through North Africa will eventually wash across the Middle East. Apart from the humanitarian situation effected by the political turmoil, media attention is focussing on the oil supply. Given that the past five global recessions were preceded by an oil-price shock, the question on many commentators’ minds is ‘Will this be the sixth?’
Yet another amusement arcade has just opened in my neighbourhood. This one stays open 24/7. I have seen the boss; he is no fly-by-night. And, in contrast to his clients, he is always very elegantly dressed. Business is obviously booming.
A recent local media report on the phenomenal boom in China’s tea market reminded me of the Tulip mania story of 1637. Now there is another raging bull in China, this time in the Bordeaux wine market. As a wine enthusiast who has literally become ‘overweight’ in this segment of the market in recent years, I should be chuffed.
The British like the idea of free banking. By ‘free’ I mean no charges on current accounts as long as certain conditions are met (minimum balances maintained, minimum monthly credits, etc.). Most banking customers realise that their accounts cost their bank something to run, but they assume the absence of meaningful interest payments on credit balances and the puzzling time-lag between a payment leaving the payer’s account and its arrival on the payee’s is sufficient to allow the bank to make ends meet.
What is it with Hollister? Six months after the opening of a new retail outlet for the lifestyle brand, there are still queues outside. This is not because the store is crowded (although it is typically too dark to be sure); entry is strictly controlled by two young men, tanned, toned, blow-dried and clad only in Bermuda shorts and flip-flops. As one customer leaves the store, so another is allowed to enter.
The more high-profile economists line up on one side or the other of the austerity vs. stimulus divide, the more observers are seduced into framing the entire debate along these lines. As we focus on the pros and cons of one or the other policy, all other possible solutions are squeezed out of the discussion.