Les miserables? Actually the French insist they are happier than ever | Kim Willsher in Paris

Turn on the radio or tv in France, and it’s gloom and doom from the first morning headline to the final late bulletin. France is in terminal decline, we are instructed, principally by rightwing presidential hopefuls engaged in a contest over who can utter the darkest, direst warnings of a future in which they are not voted into the Elysée palace subsequent April.

Declinism is à la mode; bleak is the new black. These purveyors of nostalgia and what the French name morosité are driving the nation into one among its periodic existential crises with a rallying cry plagiarised from Donald Trump that solely they can “make France nice once more”.

“What we are listening to is about decline, how issues had been higher earlier than, how France has misplaced its place in the world … it’s a photofit of pessimism,” mentioned social scientist Antoine Bristielle of the prestigious Jean-Jaurès Basis.

“We now have 75% of the nation that believes France has declined, and this decline is irreversible. And it’s not simply that they imagine it was higher earlier than however that it will likely be even worse in future.”

The far-right political pundit turned presidential candidate Éric Zemmour, whose 2014 guide The French Suicide lamented the lack of the nation’s “soul”, is the nation’s pessimist-in-chief.

Zemmour argues that France has been declining since the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo and espouses the far-right “nice substitute” conspiracy principle that Muslim immigrants are changing the native inhabitants. Bristielle mentioned: “If we take a look at how folks voted in 2017, there’s a correlation between this concept of decline and pessimism and the [political] extremes, significantly the excessive proper. Éric Zemmour is selling the fantasy of Napoleon and the Trente Glorieuses [the 30-year economic boom after the second world war] and the concept that if you happen to don’t vote for him then the state of affairs, which is catastrophic, shall be much more so.”

French far-right media pundit Éric Zemmour
French far-right media pundit Éric Zemmour broadcasts his candidacy for the 2022 presidential election in a video broadcast on social media final week. {Photograph}: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Photos

He added that, regardless of the rightwing discourse saturating the French airwaves, polls persistently present folks’s high election priorities are spending energy and the setting. “The true fear is the incapability of different political events to point out a extra engaging future and to reassure the inhabitants,” Bristielle mentioned. “This pessimism is central to constructing the fight in the excessive proper. It’s like Make America Nice Once more. We will see clear parallels between Zemmour and Trump. And at the second, this message from the proper is all we are listening to.”

Nevertheless there may be, as Emmanuel Macron is fond of claiming, en même temps [at the same time] a hanging paradox; out on the streets, folks are removed from downcast. Bars and eating places are buzzing, retailers are nonetheless in enterprise – not like many on British excessive streets – and much from being gloomy, the French have been telling pollsters they are blissful.

“In the world after the Covid disaster, the French have returned to what’s important,” mentioned pollsters Elabe, whose Baromètre des Territoires 2021 survey final month prompt that whereas 60% are satisfied the nation is in a foul manner, 78% are content material. “After all, there was sickness, victims, deaths, struggling … however lastly, this example has made us rediscover, revisit the substances of happiness.” These necessities, the pollsters prompt, weren’t “totems of shopper society” like smartphones and good vehicles that now “appear virtually derisory”.

Claudia Senik, an economist at the Paris College of Economics and director of the Wellbeing Observatory, which maps the highs and lows of French morale, agrees: “It’s true the French are typically gloomy, however now I’d say it’s get together time. Folks keep in mind the final 12 months [of Covid] as horrible so they are blissful now. It’s a cycle however we are now in the blissful part.

“We will observe the fluctuations of happiness, life satisfaction and optimism and proper now … it’s actually the excessive life in phrases of satisfaction. Folks are working, shoppers are spending and it feels very dynamic.”

Not all the French are blissful. The gilets jaunes [yellow vest] protesters have resurfaced after the Covid lockdowns, clashing with police, and French residents of Guadeloupe rioted, looted and arrange avenue barricades lately in protest at coronavirus restrictions.

There are loads of causes for the French to be cheerful, regardless of rising vitality costs, provide chain delays, a drop in industrial manufacturing and a brand new surge in Covid circumstances. Unemployment has dropped, jobs are being created, the financial system is predicted to develop by 6% this 12 months, the lifestyle is rising, and after two lockdowns folks have financial savings to spend for Christmas.

Senik says the French have an ambivalent angle in the direction of happiness, “all the time dreaming of one thing higher”.

Requested to clarify how 75% say France is in decline but 78% say they are blissful, Jérôme Fourquet, from pollsters IFOP, mentioned: “It’s a paradox that we discover in all opinion polls: when the French are questioned about the way forward for the nation, we are typically record-holders in phrases of gloom; when questioned about their private state of affairs, issues are nice.”

“There’s a hole between a extremely invested particular person sphere and a struggling capability for collective projection. Till lately, the French had been stored underneath the phantasm that we had been one among the nice powers of the world. There’s a hole between the reminiscence of a really highly effective Gaullist France and the actuality of a France that has now grow to be a center energy, which is troubling our residents.”

Gaël Brulé, an writer and researcher into happiness, mentioned: “One among the [many] paradoxes of French happiness lies in the proven fact that it’s evoked in the collective however lived in solitude.

“Covid has accelerated this development and acted for others as an eye-opener, forcing central and metaphysical questions into the coronary heart of our lives: Why am I doing this? What’s the objective of life? What’s my place?” he instructed Marianne journal.

The French have been turning to a well known antidote to the blues, in response to newspaper studies. Chocolate is at the moment having fun with an unprecedented growth to “push back the melancholy”.

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