Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.
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I was asked to speak at a Sustainable Development Commission's conference the other day on creating the right mindset for sustainable development. I began by recounting how during the election campaign I was asked to be a guest on Martha's lunch. The Martha in question is Martha Kearney, presenter of Radio 4's World at One. During the election she was having a fifteen minute discussion over lunch with three people, not actively involved in the campaign, about their views on the election. I was asked to participate with Karol Sikora, one of the UK's leading cancer specialists and critics of the NHS and Patrick Hennessy, a young ex army officer and writer. We were a disparate group of individuals who were likely to disagree profoundly on politics and yet much to our surprise we shared very similar views on the election and how it was going. We all thought that the UK had become too materialistic and what was needed was a new set of values. Instead of offering us a new vision the main parties were all about creating an aspirational culture for 'hard working families' and getting us back somehow to business as normal. None of us thought that either possible or desirable. We also thought that the electorate seemed streets ahead of the politicians on the need for radical change.
You might think this is pie in the sky but there is indeed some evidence to support our view. Last week (17 May) the Guardian's reported the results of a major, in-depth post-election poll which in the words of the poll's organiser showed that "People were looking for a vision, a direction for the country and a new set of values.'" They didn't find it in any of the three major parties.
I have been aware of this appetite for real change for some time now as a result of the number of talks I give all round the UK. If you ask people – managers, shop floor workers, civil servants, students – 'why do you think there might be a rise in depression figures?' there might be some consideration of definitions and so forth but it is much more common for people to say 'because you never have enough, you're never good enough and you never get there'. Many people feel themselves to be on a never-ending, dissatisfying conveyor belt. And they are right: psychologists call it 'the hedonic treadmill'.
In my talk I set out some of the thinking on well-being and explained why our materialistic culture can be so undermining of people and what the alternatives are. It was very gratifying that when I went over to the chap at the sound desk at the end of my talk to return my microphone, he said: 'What an interesting talk. I couldn't agree more. If you were standing for PM I'd vote for you.'