Most people are happy to leave this summer behind! The weather was disappointing for those who had hoped to relax at home or take trips with family to the seaside. But leaving the weather aside, there is also a different mood about summer whose ebbing away I regret.

Summer time tends to be a more positive time of the year. The tribunals whose work seems so manically important in April are allowed go to sleep. Politicians who are scorned for going abroad in March are allowed to disappear completely off our news pages and screens for several months. We even get a rest from the constant negative analysis about economic trends and the tones of boom and gloom to which we have become accustomed.

Instead, people look to redress the balance in their lives and most of take a less excited view of things. Families spend more time together on a daily and weekly basis. Larger family gatherings centre on marriages and anniversaries with relations and friends. Our hearts beat more to the drum of sports rather than scandals.

This isn’t to ignore the fact that even in summer time life is not all rosy for all people. The share of pain and illness, loneliness and grief, worry and fear which is part of every week doesn’t get any less in summer. But maybe we deal with these in a more healthy way when the days are brighter and people have more time.

Is time the secret of summer? Perhaps managing our time impacts on our happiness generally.

Everything takes on a difficult complexion when we are rushed. It’s a lot easier to only get half the story about the latest news when we have no time to listen. There’s a higher risk of adding two and two and getting five in our dealings with those near to us if we don’t hear both sides of the story. When we are pressed for time, our emotions and feelings are more likely to win out over thought and reason. It’s very easy to rush into decisions which will be regretted later but may not be undone.

Yet, increasingly, people say they don’t have time. People are spending much more time in their cars. Overtime is a normal part of the week for many people. Community organisations are finding it more difficult to find helpers to meet important needs.

But we all have time. The problem is we tend to have it all given away before we stop and think about it! At this time of the year, it’s all too easy to fall back into the routine we had last winter without ever asking whether it needs to be questioned or changed.

A rushed routine leaves us very open to being exploited by all kinds of vested interests – the people who want us to live life on a whim, to get angry about what they think is important, to buy what everyone should have, to measure happiness by material possessions, to crave for the new anti-aging illusion!

Human beings need space and time in a fast moving society which also changes rapidly. But there is a evidence to suggest that in Ireland we associate this with being modern or trendy. Interestingly, continental Europe – from where we take some of our appetite for change – does not take the same view. In France, for example, trucks are not permitted with out a special permit to use the main motorways of the country on Sundays. This is because the country holds that people, including long distance drivers, need a break. It is also designed to encourage families to comfortably travel together and visit others.

We are not the only country experience the pressures of change, of course. In Poland, the legislators have voted through laws which regulate Sunday trading. This was necessary because Tesco tried to force its staff to work on Sundays and treat it as a day like any other. Again, the people took a stand and declared that they had values which are not purely commercial ones. Ironically, in this country, it seems that people who have come here from other countries are increasingly rostered to work the unsociable hours in shops and petrol stations.

Maybe the forecast tightening of economic belts will be a good thing if it happens – but not because it may correct inflation in the housing market. Maybe it would be good if it helped us to make space for questions and issues that are crucially important – questions which we have ignored because we have been too busy in recent years.

Maybe we’ll find time to reflect and think about the kind of communities, neighbourhoods and families that will help us find happiness. Maybe we’ll find time to think through all the issues before we make rushed decisions about relationships, about people, about life. Maybe we would make time for people, the ones that really matter.

I’m not wishing we could go back to the social and family lives of the past. These were not all as happy or good as people sometimes hold when a dose of nostalgia is in the air.

Some commentators often criticise the past for the lack of freedom and note that state, church, school and other entities were strict in demanding conformity to standards which people had no say in setting. And that was real oppression.

The healthy alternative is for the people in a community to be free to make informed and balanced choices; freedom to seek out the best, fairest and true values by which we want to live.

The environment around us has a huge part to play in this, but it has to begin with each of individually.

(Published in the Southern Star, Sept 2007)