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For fig’s sake

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The other day, I got a WhatsApp message from a friend, which started with “Ffs” – I’d happily tell you what the acronym stands for, if you’re not familiar, but it wouldn’t be appropriate on the pages of this reputable paper. Let’s just say, a more family-friendly version would be, “for fig’s sake.”

As I navigated to open the app on my phone, I wondered what prompted the tone – was she bored, as an extravert, with the restrictions on socialising? Was her 15-year-old sent back home from school after another Coronavirus outbreak? Was her son at university stuck in the halls of residence for Christmas? It was neither of these.

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She had applied for a new job back in March – she was due to attend the interview the week the first UK lockdown was announced. As a result, her interview was cancelled, and within a week, the company contacted her to inform they would not be going ahead with recruitment for the foreseeable future. She was disheartened but at the same time appreciated that in the current climate most organisations would freeze hiring new staff. With a very quiet few months on the recruitment front, she decided to stay put where she was relatively secure and not at immediate risk of redundancy. In October, with a few more companies advertising and a fair amount of new vacancies advertised, she tried her luck with a few applications, her mind all along on the one that had got away.

This week, out of the blue, she got an email from the company informing her that they were now able to go ahead with the recruitment efforts they’d aborted in March and asking her to get in touch if she would still be interested in the role. It was a win-win situation – after all, they must have really been interested in her CV to remember her, and of course if she was interested, it would save the company any additional spend on readvertising the position.

Her response at this news baffled me. Then again, there were other such responses that have baffled me over the last few months. Another spectacular example was a colleague asking about the possibility of pay rises on a live broadcast discussing the finances of a company in 2021. Senior management had gone to great lengths balancing the books and making the most of the government’s furlough scheme to save money and ensure no one would be at risk of redundancy come 2021. Yet, here was an employee enquiring about pay rise, under the cloak of anonymity. On the very same call, another asked if the extra tax-free work-from-home allowance would be increased while another complained about the free masks the organisation had provided in packs of three to each of its 1,000 employees.

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“The masks are not fit for purpose,” the employee explained, “They will need to have a band over the nose in order to provide the best protection. Will this be addressed and will new masks be issued?” Possibly, working from home, many wouldn’t empathise with the anxiety a more client-based role might induce on those working on the frontlines. However, if they were not happy with the standard of the masks provided free of charge, they always had the option to buy their own ‘fit for purpose’ ones, I thought, horrified and amused all at once.

This odd blend of amusement and horror has almost become a daily state of existence as I witness some of the most bizarre, boorish and entitled behaviour all around. Sadly, it seems to be the case that those who are less affected by the pandemic and the financial fallout, end up also being the most ungrateful. Untouched by the worries and anxieties that have blighted the lives of many in the last few months, they hold tight to their entitlement – from pay rises, to work from home allowance increase to fit for purpose masks.

Numerous studies in the recent years have shown that it doesn’t require a great deal for the average human to be happy and what makes us happy is not material possessions. In fact, above an income of about £20,000 per year ($28,000), there is no increase in hedonic happiness. Earning less than £400 per week (or about £20,000 a year) is one of the factors that increase the chances of being in the most miserable 1%. Above £400 per week, the law of diminishing marginal returns kicks in.

What this means simply is once your basic needs are satisfied; your desire for ever-increasing amounts of money generates ever-decreasing returns of happiness. While I appreciate that we all want to strive for the next big things, I think if some haven’t learned to practise gratitude in 2020, I am afraid they may be incapable of gratitude altogether. If 2020 hasn’t been the year to pack your privilege and count your blessings – the roof over your head, the food in your belly, the job that keeps your pockets lined, you need a miracle.

Before the year is over, perhaps we should all to get our entitlement in check, see the audacity in asking for pay rise when there are people wondering where their next meal is coming from, or fit-for-purpose face coverings when there are people in intensive care, struggling to breath without a tube stuck down their throats. For fig’s sake, let’s make 2020 the year we realise just how much we really have to be grateful for and how little we really need to be happy.

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