I’ll get to the most baffling and ridiculous quote of 2015 – in my opinion – in a moment, but there’s been an awful lot written about the Chancellor’s plans to allow shops across the country to stay open for longer on Sundays. Currently, only shops with less than 3,000 square feet can open for more than six hours on Sundays – in essence smaller convenience stores and independent retail shops. The economic reasons for extending this seem compelling: thousands more jobs would be created, hundreds of millions of pounds of extra income could be generated for shops across the country and it offers greater flexibility to people needing to stock up on provisions. It’s a no-brainer, surely?
Certainly the proposals need to be considered seriously, rather than dismissed out of hand: a more stable society can only a good thing. However the argument that extending Sunday trading hours will make us all happier is unhelpfully muddying the debate, not to mention, in my opinion, completely untrue. This brings me to the laugh-out-loud quote from business minister, Anna Soubry, who believes that Sunday was the “most miserable day of the week” before shopping was allowed.
Really? Could it simply be that the opportunity to pop to Monsoon and browse the Accessorize section over seven days rather than six is all we’ve been missing in the hunt for a more contented existence? Not only is the idea absurd, but it contradicts the findings of modern science, not to mention highlighting the cultural fallacy that getting more stuff equates to happiness.
Back in 1938 a study began at Harvard that tracked the lives of people over many decades. Conducted over 75 years, the astonishing results from the Harvard Grant Study were published in a book in 2012 by psychiatrist George Valliant, who led the study for over 30 years. In short, the key to happiness is not getting more stuff. It’s love. To quote the great man himself: “The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” Relationships. Relationships. Relationships: that’s the key to happiness – and it certainly casts a shadow over the notion that taking thousands of employees away from families and friends for yet another day of work will suddenly meet our soul’s deepest needs. Perhaps freeing up time to rest, play, be with others, and deepen friendships might do us all the world of good.
Moreover, the acquisition of more money for either an individual or society won’t necessarily lead to healthier communities either. In a quite brilliant talk by Paul Piff, called Does Money Make Us Mean? he highlights a number of studies that indicate quite the opposite. Individuals earning under $15,000 were far more likely to be generous to an anonymous stranger than those earning three times as much. Drivers of flashier, more expensive cars, were far less likely to courteously stop and allow someone to navigate a pedestrian crossing. Now I’m not jumping on a soapbox and shouting: “All rich people are mean. Poorer people are nicer.” There are plenty of examples where that’s not the case. But I am saying that if we want our communities to be stronger, families to be more stable, and society to be better off, then more money, longer working hours and a turning up the volume on our consumerist culture is not the answer. Let’s have the debate, sure, but let’s consider all the facts.
And if anyone reading this agrees with Ms Soubry’s comments, I’ll not only lend you my imagination for the million things that might make you happy on a Sunday other than shopping – playing with your kids, serving at a soup kitchen, inviting your neighbours for dinner – but I’d also point you to the teachings of a certain Nazarene Rabbi, who himself said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”’ (Acts 20:35).