Round Up 2001
So were we happier in 2001 than in
1851, 1901 or 1951?

Life is certainly easier with all the mod cons and there are lots of things to do in our relatively large amounts of free time.

Richer and Healthier

We have the best healthcare system that we have ever had. Science has allowed for major operations, transplants and new medicines that can cure many illnesses once believed to be untreatable. We understand more now about the human body than at any other time.

Families are not made up in the same way as they once were. There are now lots of different varieties but most of them seem to be working!

We have a benefits system that has replaced the need for workhouses. We are richer in our belongings and many people own their own home rather than rent off a local landowner. We are warm in our homes and safe at work.

Broken Britain?

Yet we do not seem to be happy. People look back on the past with longing. They believe that communities and society were closer then and that it was a happier and more content time.

Visions of the Past

We watch lots of programmes set in the Victorian era such as Larkrise to Candleford, Cranford and adaptations of Dickens, the Brontes, Elizabeth Gaskell and Thomas Hardy.

Environmental Worries

We also worry about the harm that we are doing to our planet and our immediate surroundings. Our consumer lifestyle means that we are consuming vast amounts of energy and producing high amounts of damaging carbon dioxide – 6 tonnes per household per year. It is believed that we are only now experiencing the effects of the CO2 emissions of the 1950s and 1960s.

Disappearing Wildlife

Expanding towns and villages have eaten into the countryside, and agricultural developments have reduced the numbers of native species of flora and fauna. The number of hares in the UK has fallen by 50% in the last 25 years and the once common dormouse is now very rare.

The Happy Planet Index

The New Economics Foundation (nef) has carried out a worldwide survey of happiness in which it used a formula to calculate each country’s Happy Planet Index number. The formula uses life satisfaction (based on areas such as health, wealth, education and leisure), life expectancy and ecological footprint.

nef believe that this new index is a more accurate representation of how countries perform than the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) that measures the wealth of a country per head of population.

Is the UK Happy?

In the Happy Planet Index the UK scored well for life satisfaction and life expectancy, although far below other European countries such as Germany and Switzerland. The main area for improvement is our ecological footprint. The UK had an overall score of 40.3 – the ideal score would be 83.5 - although no country in the world meets this ideal. Vanuatu in the western Pacific scored the highest with 68.2.

How to be Happier

So how can we improve our happiness and well-being and increase our satisfaction with life? According to nef there are five actions that we need to build into our everyday lives. Many of them are the things our ancestors did in their day-to-day lives – perhaps we can learn how to be happier by looking to the past? We have adapted nef’s five actions to fit in with life in Suffolk, they are. . . . . . . .


Connect with the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.

Be active…

Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Go for a bike ride. Play a game. Do a bit of gardening. Dance, possibly around a Maypole! Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and one that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

Take notice…

Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons, such as the beauty of your village or town in the snow. Savour the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

Keep learning…

Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a tractor. Learn to look after an animal or how to drive a steam traction engine. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.


Do something nice for a friend, or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time, maybe in a local museum. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.

The Good Life

For more ideas about living a happy sustainable life in the modern world why not come and join in with our events.

This exhibition is part of a wider sustainability project delivered through the Rural Museums East Partnership. It is funded by Renaissance East of England.

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