Honesty does not pay

8th March 2013 at 00:00

I'm sitting in the kitchen with an interviewer from the Office for National Statistics, who is trying to ignore the fact that Charlie, my golden retriever, is snuffling noisily around his groin. He's interviewing me as part of the UK government's workforce survey, for which I have been randomly selected. I'm hoping next time they will pick me as a Premium Bond winner instead.

We fly through a series of questions about my average working week, overtime and salary, but I'm stumped by his question on happiness. "On a scale of 1 to 10, where 10 is very happy and 1 is extremely unhappy, how would you rate your happiness on Sunday 17 February?"

The specificity of the question intrigues me. Why that Sunday? Were they banking on our being in a hazy fug from Valentine's Day, cheerfully passing around the Bisto before collapsing in front of the telly with the remains of our box of Milk Tray? And, more worryingly, how reliable is a survey that only tests the mood of the nation on the Lord's day of rest? I think carefully before I answer. On that Sunday I was actually very sad, but I feel uncomfortable at the thought of sharing such personal stuff with a government official. It would be on a par with telling the principal that my cervix tilts off to the right.

I look for a safe answer and grope towards the number eight. "Eight," I say confidently, hoping that under closer scientific scrutiny this crunchy, stoical integer will crack to reveal its true heart of molten gloom. He looks visibly relieved. Nobody, not even the government, wants to hear the naked truth.

Nowadays honesty is an unwelcome guest. When your partner rolls over in the night and asks "How was that for you?" he's seeking your unrestricted praise. He wants to hear that your cervix is pulsing like a 1970s disco track, your hypothalamus is lit up like the 4th of July and that his penis is the size of a prize cucumber. The last thing he wants to hear is that you would have been happier with a Horlicks.

Even in school we send the truth shuffling away. Recently our senior leadership team conducted a "happiness" survey. Now, if you're in any doubt as to the integrity of their intentions, the clue is in the name. By calling it a "happiness" survey, rather than a "stress level" survey or a "how often do you lie awake at 5am wishing you were dead?" survey, they're already pointing you in the direction they want you to go.

The survey consisted of a series of questions where we had to rate our workplace satisfaction against a series of predetermined statements. Given that the feedback session was entrusted to a team of consultants rather than the Samaritans, I suspect most of us lied. But since we have been booked to repeat the exercise again next month, I suspect we didn't quite lie enough.

We need people to lie. Keats could get away with the old "Beauty is truth, truth beauty" thing because he popped his clogs at 25, but for the rest of us truth gets uglier as we grow older. Nowadays, I only want to face the truth after it has undergone major corrective surgery. I want it lip-plumped, collagen-filled and ironed out with Botox.

Unfortunately my children haven't realised this. They haven't clicked that when I ring them at university and ask "Are you OK?" I want them to cross their fingers behind their backs and tell me whopping great lies. Because hearing the word "no" from 300 miles away is sometimes too much truth to bear.

Anne Thrope (Ms) is a secondary teacher in the North of England. @AnnethropeMs.

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