Want To Make Britain Happy? Appoint A Niggle Tsar

21/12/2011 12:06 GMT | Updated 19/02/2012 10:12 GMT

When John Lennon said that life was what happened when you were busy making other plans, he was being wildly optimistic. Life, all too often, seems to be governed by the day-to-day texture of niggles, anxieties and minor worries.

At the weekend, for example, my main concern wasn't whether the Euro would collapse (although I dare say that at some point it will creep onto the worry horizon) but why the electricity meter continued to count whilst the sun shone on the solar panels.

A small thing by world crisis standards but a niggle that disturbed what would otherwise have been a relatively frantic day of pre-Christmas shopping.

The tragic truth is that we're built for such things. Read around and it's quickly clear that our minds have been formed to cope with imminent attack by wild animals and wilder people various. For more on this, read Daniel Pink's excellent book, Drive - the surprising truth about what motivates us.

Italian debt

I'm sure that many people are fretting over the state of the world economy and the cost of Italian debt, but more, millions more, will be mithering about the lateness of the post, their children's driving habits (as we do), and/or the price of Christmas trees this year (the Guardian says pay no more than £30 and since we did, I worry about whether it was a local blip or just poor negotiating skills).

Some years ago I read a piece on micro-stressors, little things that add stress (not surprisingly) to our every day existence. Late buses, queues for petrol, tops left off tooth paste tubes, Christmas Tree lights that won't light, all add in their small ways to an overwhelming sense that all is not right with the world.

Doubtless, all the talk of public sector pensions and currency problems don't help. They probably add to that general feeling of woe and foreboding.

Not that life is bad. It could, of course, always be a lot worse. And the things that irritate could be deemed to be little more than a Middle Class Malaise - a luxury, in fact, to have the time to worry about such nonsense.

So does this kind of thing matter at all?

It might. Understanding what makes us happy, in policy terms, is becoming increasingly important to ministers.

Politicians have become obsessed with happiness. Public policy is now informed by well-being indices. Governments are keen for us to be happy - I suspect this is mainly because material circumstances for the foreseeable will dictate that, objectively, we will be anything but.

But maybe we're all looking in the wrong places.

It's not just about money. The rich apparently, like the rest of us, benchmark their wealth not against the 99.9% but against each other. Yacht owners' noses are quickly put out of joint by neighbours whose yachts are better specified, bigger, more expensive or just plain nicer.

The gloss quickly fades

Tis thus for the rest of us too. We may be given a pay rise but if our friends get bigger rises, then the gloss fades quickly and we become unhappy. So flimsy is this thing called well-being.

It seems that friendships matter. Having friends is a good thing. But if you believe Christakis and Fowler, we are affected by our friends' moods. So if you're going to make friends, befriend happy people but not people who have more to be happy about than you, or you could risk becoming unhappy, particularly when they show you their new yacht.

The Niggle Tsar

My money's on niggles. I think the government should appoint a Niggle Tsar whose job it will be to sort out the small things that ruin our daily calm.

The Tsar would stride the land finding lost keys, putting things in the loft that should have been moved weeks ago, redirecting post for people who lived in our houses a decade ago and locating the scraper for the car in the morning.

The Niggle Tsar would also appear at the side of the screen when the news about the Euro is on and say in calming tones, "All of this stuff will sort itself out so go out and by that jacket/car/fridge/bookshelf you've been coveting for weeks".

And she or he could be proactive by telling us that if we really want to be happy with our lot, employment and overdrafts notwithstanding, we should focus on the little things that make us happy.

For many that would be simple - a fresh cup of coffee, a newspaper on a Saturday morning and a stroll with the dog over the fields behind the church.

If only I could put my hands on that blasted dog lead...