A recent Irish Times survey (April 2019) suggests that vast majority of people in Ireland are happy with life, more than what they perceive their parents lives to have been. Better economic times / prosperity has an impact (although money never really makes you happy!)
The same article showed that 100% of people under 50 have a mobile phone. In last few weeks medical science has highlighted dangers of prolonged use of mobile phone technology by kids and risks to long term development, mental and physical health. Another news article reported that social media companies were working to identify happy people using smile emoji and prompting behaviour responses through the mobile network. So, is it the mobile phone that is making everyone feel happy?
As a Cardiologist, I struggle to see all this “happiness” in practice. Instead I meet many young patients stressed about their health because of life’s pressures. Recently I saw a 37 year-old executive with chest pains – she had several tests which did not show a lot. I reassured her that everything was ok. She seemed upset and we explored her story …. She found work very challenging, difficult boss, huge expectations and always under pressure to deliver projects, few support staff, working long hours and also having home life challenges (mortgage, kids, bills etc); No real time to exercise, poor sleep and putting on weight. She actually came to me with chest pains because mum’s friend died from a heart attack and she was really scared that she would end up like this. She then told me about how she had to stop working in a previous job because of similar symptoms and was diagnosed with burnout. I was duly concerned for her mental and physical health. I believe that she came to see me looking for a doctor to tell her that she needed to do something about her work / life situation now before burnout could happen again.
I hear this story from 30, 40, 50 year old patients every week and among friends. Some have serious health issues, frequently because of stress. All describe similar work environments and most blame their jobs but fail to do anything for themselves about it. In many jobs people at all levels are pushing themselves to unsustainable levels of achievement at every age, many at cost of healthy lifestyle and then they seek instant gratification from mobile phones apps that take care of “I don’t have any time to do that” challenges. People socialize less, binge drink more, exercise less regularly, eat more and consume everything online losing out on healthier, enjoyable, sociable and less stress causing aspects of life. They sleep poorly and cannot cope. These activities increase depression and that leads to future heart disease, cancers and chronic illnesses.
I firmly believe in power of true happiness and positive psychology. It is an enormous opportunity to transform the health and welfare of our nation. However, something (what is happiness) is missing between reported happiness and real world stress and ill-health, especially in younger generations.