According to AustraliaSCAN 60 per cent of us feel a lack of control which is impacting on our satisfaction with our lives. We spoke to leading social analyst, David Chalke from AustraliaSCAN, who shares his perspective on what this means for all of us.
Q: What are the key trends to have emerged that illustrate what’s on the minds of Australians?
A: Let’s start off with uncertainty. It is mainly the uncertainty stemming from external forces and our inability to control them. These uncertainties can be across multiple subject matters. It can be economics – the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) highlighted that global economies and share markets can be hard to predict.
Or it can be the natural environment like storms, floods, bushfires – the recent Queensland and Victoria flooding were far worse than anyone had anticipated and the Western Australia fires have been devastating. Uncertainty about government, we now have a classic example with a hung federal parliament. At state levels there has been a constant change of leadership and instability. Uncertainty can also involve simple day to day decision making, as consumers have more choices than ever before.
Q: How do you think this uncertainty impacts our lives? And what are we doing about it?
A: This latest rise of uncertainty is impacting Australians in numerous ways. Firstly it’s driving them to seek out the certainty of people, institutions and brands they trust. In turn it’s putting a premium on expertise. And when seeking this expertise they also want some sort of price assurance. That doesn’t mean a rush to the bottom for the lowest price but it means the reassurance that whatever price I pay, I will not be ripped off. Finding a balance between quality and price, and giving a sense of control has become more important than ever.
Q: Do you think that searching for control will influence the general happiness or wellbeing of Australians?
A: Certainly, it’s the sense of loss of control that is directly linked to a general decline of satisfaction in life.
Q: What other things directly influence our satisfaction with life?
A: We often think that money is a key factor in life satisfaction but research has shown that once you go to a certain level off the breadline then money doesn’t make you any happier and that seems to be the case in Australia. Over the last decade we have become wealthier and leapt ahead of the people who we’ve generally compared ourselves to such as the Americans, Europeans and Japanese. Our national wealth has grown, our GDP has leapt ahead of theirs whereas theirs has gone backwards and in Australia real living standards have got better. However our natural satisfaction with life has declined.
Q: When was our satisfaction with life highest and when did the decline start?
A: As a nation our life satisfaction was at its peak just after the last recession, and since then has been in decline. So in the early to mid 90s there was a peak and since then it has been slowly eroding away. A large part of that links to a sense of not being comfortable due to a sense of loss of control, not because of ‘what I’m doing’ but because of what the outside world is doing.
Too many choices are quite exhausting. Economics says that the more choices you have, the better for the markets – that’s fine, but it is bewildering on the markets if they don’t know what to do with those choices. And that’s exactly the case in Australia.
Q: What are we doing about this? How are we trying to gain some control?
A: What Australians are trying to do is to get little bits of control back into their lives.
For example, the uptake of technology to gain control of doing things in a shorter time and conveniently when and where they want to.
We are also seeking the expertise of people who are knowledgeable, and we expect these people to be proficient in their fields so they can provide a sense of confidence and control. People are also shifting their focus to what’s most important to them – their life, family, their home, where they can be in charge. It’s imperative for people to regain some control, whether from what’s happening in the outside world or from somewhere closer to home.