1957: You've Never had it so Good
Researchers at Warwick University have concluded that 1957 was the happiest year on record. This is an interesting claim; measuring people’s well-being and emotion, especially dead people’s, cannot be an easy thing. Rather, they did it by looking for positive terms published in the literature of the years from 1776-2009, such as ‘peace’, happiness’ and ‘enjoyment’. Likewise, words such as ‘murder’, ‘starvation’ and ‘stress’ rendered a given year a reduced happiness rating. The greater the frequency with which positives terms were employed, the happier the year; the lower the number, or the higher the usage of negative terms, the unhappier the year.
One might question the methodology for its accuracy and usefulness. I for, example, enjoy reading novels which are murder mysteries; they frequently refer to murder, death and suffering, yet they give readers great satisfaction. A year in which lots of these books are published would probably increase my levels of happiness. Nevertheless, the 1950s does strike me as being a rather pleasant decade. Two people I know look back on that era as the happiest in their lives; this might be because they were young enough to be healthy and hopeful, and old enough to have some freedom and money. This is how I remember the years 1994-2001.
In 1957, half of British households had outdoor toilets; 80% had to hand-wash clothes and only 5% could refrigerate food. A great many people were poor and had little prospect of progressing beyond the factory floor. On the other hand, rationing was over, there were 33 million fewer cars on the road and 89,000 fewer divorces. Britain had won the War and walked tall globally (notwithstanding the humiliation of Suez in ’56). Ordinary folk could still remember the horror of the 1940s; surviving that decade must have given a real sense of appreciation for life’s little comforts. In contrast, we today have never had so much wealth, technology, opportunity for travel and luxury, yet we are as miserable a people as ever there were.
So perhaps Harold Macmillan, the then Prime Minister was quite correct: we’d never had it so good, and wouldn’t do so again. We Christians, however, know that the best is yet to come. We have a Saviour who has spent the last couple of millennia preparing a place for us. Isaiah, in his eleventh chapter, puts it like this:
6“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze;
Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox,
8 The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
9 They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.
10 “And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse,
Who shall stand as a banner to the people;
For the Gentiles shall seek Him,
And His resting place shall be glorious.”
The 1950s are long-gone, never to return, and their simple pleasures and contented happiness with them. No, I long not for the past. I cry MARANTHA, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’. Only in Him can true, ever-lasting happiness be found.