Irish public’s outward anger contrasts sharply with private contentment
The Lehman Legacy: While Irish people have expressed much public anguish in the past five years, research shows that most of us are privately content
Resilience is like a battery. In the good times it gets “charged” as we store up the resources, habits and relations that will see us through the bad times. It’s the ability to bounce back from disturbance and to cope with adversity. Today, after five years of bad times, it would seem our resilience battery sorely needs recharging.
Nevertheless, on some measures we Irish are still a resilient lot. At the end of 2008 – just months after the collapse of Lehman Brothers – my company asked a representative sample of 1,500 adults whether they had experienced any of a range of emotions or feelings “the previous day”.
Five years ago the top two emotions or feelings experienced by the majority of Irish people were “happiness” and “enjoyment”. Fast-forward five years to a new survey and the top two emotions are... happiness and enjoyment.
Negative emotions are there too, of course – stress and worry, for example – though for a minority of people. While the emotions experienced least are fear and anger. I think this signals a number of things, not just psychological resilience but also a curious, Irish combination of “public anguish and private contentment”.
In the same surveys the vast majority of people tell us how very worried they are about the economy and its prospects. But at the level of their families, friends and colleagues they’re getting by. This might also explain the remarkable quiescence of the Irish in contrast to other parts of Europe experiencing their own recessions.
Consumer spending trend
One indicator of depletion is the trend in consumer spending. Total expenditure is down nearly 20 per cent since its peak in late 2007. In some retail categories, such as pubs, spending is down to levels last seen in the mid-1990s. At the peak our research was showing that consumers still considered convenience more important than price when buying groceries. But in 2008 price overtook convenience as the number one consideration, and it has remained that way since.
In the past five years we have gone from a nation for whom shopping around looked “cheap” to one for whom it now looks “clever”.
Our priorities have changed in other ways as well. In 2008 just six in 10 adults used the internet – today eight in 10 are online, and nearly six in 10 have smartphones. We’ll spend nearly €4 billion online this year, up from less than €1 billion five years ago. A more cautious approach to spending also means we are still able to save despite higher taxes and lower incomes.