Bill Jamieson: For one day, feel-good is official

Andy Murray's Wimbledon win, the Lions' victory and the good weather are all feel-good factors. Picture: Reuters
Andy Murray's Wimbledon win, the Lions' victory and the good weather are all feel-good factors. Picture: Reuters
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Much is made of the most miserable day of the year, but tomorrow will be quite the opposite, writes Bill Jamieson

Get ready for tomorrow. Friday 19 July has been designated National Feel-Good Day. It’s not to be confused National Happiness Day which, in case you missed it, fell on 21 June. And don’t get muddled up with the unofficial National Uplift Day (Monday, 8 July) when we returned to work buoyed by Andy Murray’s Wimbledon triumph, sunny weather and the British & Irish Lions’ victory over Australia.

Happy days really are here again. You wait five years in misery and suddenly three joy-inducing events come along at once.

To mark tomorrow’s Feel-Good Day celebrations, a cosmetic facelift company has commissioned “world renowned” professor Dr Todd Kashdan to develop a “Feel-Good Formula”. This is totally separate of course from the mathematical formula devised by Dr Cliff Arnall, a “happiness coach” for celebrities and business leaders who came up with the third Friday in June as Happy Clappy Day.

Tomorrow’s Feel-Good Day formula requires us to do stuff – smile at people, pay compliments and do good deeds: excellent reasons, many will feel, for staying in bed and not going out at all.

How telling of our glass-half-empty nature that more media coverage is regularly given to the most miserable day of the year, “Blue Monday”. This is the name given to a date in the last full week of January and designated the most depressing day of the year. This year’s Blue Monday fell on 21 January, though any day in the first four months of the year would have done just as well. It is based on a formula measuring, among other things, the weather, our debt level (the gap between debt accumulated and our ability to pay), the time elapsed since Christmas, failure of New Year’s resolutions and low motivational levels. No matter that it is denounced as pseudo-science, it routinely attracts considerable comment at the time.

So why not make a fuss of National Feel-Good Day? After all, the feel-good factor has been treated for many by many as akin to the search for the Holy Grail. Its sighting is hailed as the rainbow leading to a pot of gold, its appearance as joyful as the entrance to Valhalla. Politicians and economists constantly strive to find it and if they cannot find it to seek ways to invent it. General elections are won or lost on feel-good factor ratings. And economists are quick to point out that the feel-good factor is a critical ingredient of business and household confidence. Indeed, on this our prospects for recovery crucially depend.

So the feel-good factor – elusive, ephemeral, often subjective and frequently a mirage – is an important contributor to social harmony and a sense of economic well-being. It’s not our immediate life situation that matters so much as the expectation that things will get better. And that has been on Stafford Cripps austerity rations since the financial skies fell in back in 2008.

There is some substance to the claim that this summer has seen a resurgence in the feel-good factor: a combination of fantastic weather, sporting success (Andy Murray, the Lions), rising house prices and more encouraging news on the economy. In recent weeks supermarkets have reported a shopping bonanza, with sales of Pimm’s at Waitrose up 316 per cent up on a year ago, while ice cream, burgers and strawberries were cleared from the shelves.

But there is more at work here than a Wimbledon effect. This week the Scottish Retail Consortium reported that total Scottish sales last month rose 2.8 per cent compared with last year, the best growth since April 2011. Taking account of shop price deflation at 0.2 per cent, June total sales were up three per cent in real terms.

Fiona Moriarty, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, described the figures as “really positive” and ascribed the improvement to warmer weather and a steady rise in consumer confidence.

Nor is the feel-good factor merely a function of sunny weather. Figures out yesterday showed Scotland’s economy performing better, with both the economy and employment growing, although unemployment also grew.

On an annual basis, Scottish GDP grew by 1.2 per cent in the first quarter – very cloudy and ultra-cold – well above the 0.5 per cent seen for the UK overall. This differential was principally reflected in better Scottish performances over the year in manufacturing, construction and business services.

While the increase in unemployment is disappointing, the latest Bank of Scotland Report on Jobs this week signals a marked and continuing improvement in job market conditions in June and the sharpest uplift since October 2007. Staff placements continued to rise on the back of the strongest rates of permanent and temporary vacancy growth in 14 and 21 months respectively while average pay increased at the sharpest pace for almost six years and at a much faster rate than the UK average.

Surveys have also revealed that businesses are at their most optimistic since the start of the recession. Lloyds TSB’s Commercial Banking Business In Britain survey, which interviewed 1,800 small businesses, revealed confidence had reached its strongest level since January 2008 with firms expecting rising orders, sales and profits in the next six months. It said this confidence was being seen across all regions and sectors.

Finally, the Ernst & Young Item Club forecasting group says GDP growth would reach 1.1 per cent this year, before accelerating to 2.2 per cent in 2014 and 2.6 per cent in 2015. It said the UK economy had “finally got legs” with consumer spending and a more buoyant housing market propping up the economy, with an exports revival and business investment kicking in next year.

All too good to be true? And might the feel-good factor be doomed to vanish with the first inevitable thunderstorm? Markedly sunny periods seem to be inevitably followed by corrections: autumn brings cold winds and a reminder of chilly times ahead. Yet we may be able to face these with greater fortitude and a recharged belief that better times are possible.

However, designating 19 July as a National Feel-Good Day may prove a hostage to fortune. And we have good reason to view its approach with some apprehension.

Bad things have happened on 19 July.

It saw the outbreak of the Great Fire of Rome in AD64, which burnt the city to the ground. It saw the Battle of Halidon Hill (north-west of Berwick) in 1333 in the wars of Scottish independence, when the English won a decisive victory over the Scots. In 1545, the Tudor warship Mary Rose sank off Portsmouth and in 1588, the Spanish Armada was sighted in the English Channel. In 1864, France declared war on Prussia. And on 19 July, 1916, British and Australian troops attacked German trenches in the Battle of Fromelles, a prelude to the Battle of the Somme.

National Feel-Good Day? Not every year.