Welcome to our 2014 Almanac. A year full of surprises. A surge in the public’s economic optimism this spring, but falling unemployment did not see a rise in personal financial optimism.

Our politics is more uncertain than ever, a ‘war of the weak’: Labour’s post-referendum collapse in Scotland, the unpopularity of Ed Miliband, and their perceived weakness on the economy saw them lose support again in 2014. But despite improvements in the economy, and David Cameron’s relative popularity, the Conservatives remain the most disliked party. Their cousins and defectors in UKIP make it even harder for the Conservatives to do what has only ever happened twice before: increase support at an election after being in power for over two years.

Uncertainty prevails. The young are more pessimistic than in previous generations about their future, a view shared all over the world, as we discovered in our first ever Global Trends Survey, which we report on here.

As always in Britain – and in most other societies – tradition matters. The anniversary of 1914 was an opportunity to reflect on our military and personal history, which only 2% of us think is best forgotten. At the same time, our analysis of generational change shows that attitudes to homosexuality, or traditional roles for men and women, are changing rapidly because of generational shifts. The pre-1945 generation, while outliving previous generations, are now in their final years.

For business, there has been opportunity and challenge from new technologies. Combine this with new consumer behaviour and there are rapid changes in how we shop and spend our leisure time, shaking up traditional market leaders.

In our own world of research we have more powerful tools and techniques to understand people better than ever. All businesses face increasing pressure on leaders and managers to innovate and drive staff performance – something we have seen happen in workplaces across Europe.

One can point to British and European collective pessimism and say it is justified when you look at the very considerable pressures on wages and public spending coming in 2016 onwards, and from globalisation and technology – whoever wins the election. Or one can point to faster economic growth than in many other developed countries, to innovation and rebalancing of the economy and to low unemployment.

We think the British tend to collective pessimism, and occasionally need to cheer up, so we hope you enjoy what we have focused on this year in business, society, politics and the economy.

From everyone at Ipsos MORI, here’s to a peaceful festive season and a successful 2015.