Is Brexit trauma an illusion?
Sir, – There has been much discussion of the potential wellbeing effects of Brexit which a leading stress expert suggests caused “a mental trauma in Britain on the scale of a major war or a natural disaster” (Ronan McGreevy, “Britain suffering ‘enormous stress’ over Brexit, psychologist warns”, News, May 16th).
Brexit has been protracted and stressful, of course, but decades of wellbeing research suggest that people can adapt remarkably well to adverse events.
So rather than the happiness of the public falling off a “cliff edge”, it is important to ask whether British wellbeing may be surprisingly “strong and stable”?
It appears so. The UK Office of National Statistics records the happiness, life satisfaction, and anxiety of over 100,000 British adults each year and it sees no overall change in population wellbeing since 2016.
Others have found that these stable national trends masked happiness boosts among Leavers matched by drops among Remainers.
However, these changes were short-lived and disappeared within three months of the referendum.
We can also explain why, when surveyed, many people report feeling anxious because of Brexit. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman noted that “nothing in life is as important as you think it is, while you are thinking about it”. This “focusing illusion” phenomenon suggests that surveys prompting people to reflect on Brexit could amplify how impactful they report it to be.
Of course, in time Brexit may turn out to have more than an illusory impact on wellbeing in the UK, but for now it appears that the British public has shown remarkable resilience and decided to keep calm and carry on! – Yours, etc,