Apologies for keeping people hanging on this one. I have been enjoying life away from the computer with a trip around the USA and Canada. My last post was one that I wanted to get out there so much that I did it all via my mobile phone. Apologies for any typos that popped up in the process.
I often define the happy and fulfilling life to my clients as a balance of connection to people, connection to nature and connection to a purpose. The latter may include hobbies, projects, and family roles. For many, connection to a greater purpose or a greater good is also valued (be it community / country / a god etc). I find that travelling helps me really connect to new environments that are beautiful, new and therefore stimulating. I find that connecting to people from other cultures helps strengthen my sense of identity about where I fit in the world, and I love connecting to and learning from people from other parts of the world and realising our shared values. More importantly, I just love to “shoot the sh**” and have a good time. That’s a great thing to have in common.
So onto the quiz.
Which of the following were scientifically correlate with happiness?
-sociopolitical climate (ie your system of government)
-number of friends
Take a minute to think about what the findings may have been from large randomized controlled surveys conducted across thousands of people across the world, on what happy people have in common.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press.
Had a think? Ok, here we go:
Wealth: Very little effect on happiness overall.
In very poor nations, where poverty threatens life, being rich does predict greater well-being. However, once gross national product exceeds $8,000 per person, the correlation between money and life satisfaction disappears. In the USA, the very poor are lower in happiness, but once a person is just barely comfortable, added money adds little to no happiness. Even in the face of great adversity, poverty has much less effect on life satisfaction than one might expect. On the other end of the scale, becoming materialistic appears counterproductive and can reduce life satisfaction. The fabulously rich Forbes 100 entrants, with average net worth of over 125 million US dollars, are only slightly happier than the average American.
Marriage (USA): For reasons that remain unclear, marriage is strongly related to happiness, equally for both men and women.
The National Opinion Research Centre surveyed 35,000 Americans over 30 years, and found that 40 per cent of married people said they were “very happy” while only 24 per cent of unmarried, divorced, separated or widowed people said this. Living unmarried with a significant other is associated with greater happiness (than not) in individualistic cultures like ours, but with less happiness in collectivist countries like Japan and China. However, unhappy marriages tend to undermine well-being. The reasons for the relationship between marriage and happiness are unclear, though there are 3 distinct possibilities. Does marriage cause happiness? Are happy more people more likely to get married? Or does some other variable (good looks / sociability) cause more happiness and a greater likelihood of marriage?
Social Life / Number of friends: Strongly correlated with happiness.
Very happy people lead rich and fulfilling social lives. They spend the most time socialising and the least time alone, and are rated highest on good relationships by themselves and their friends.
Age: Nope, getting older does not reduce happiness.
A study of 60,000 adults from forty nations found that the intensity of positive and negative emotions reduces as we get older. Pleasant affect (i.e. feeling good in the moment) reduces slightly with age, while life satisfaction increases slightly with age.
Health: Barely related to happiness. Your number of doctor and hospital visits does not affect life satisfaction. Even severely ill cancer patients differ only slightly on global life satisfaction. When disabling illness is severe and long-lasting, happiness and life satisfaction do decline, although not nearly as much as you might expect. The happiness of people with five or more chronic health problems does decrease over time. This one is particularly subjective, however: what matters here is our subjective perception of how healthy we are – how well we adapt to adversity and our ability to appraise our health positively even if we are sick.
Education, Climate, Race, Intelligence, Gender: Hardly related to happiness at all. Education is a means to slightly higher happiness among those with low income. Intelligence has no effect in either direction. Happiness levels do not vary with climate (with some exceptions, such as seasonal affective disorder / winter depression). In the USA, African-Americans and Hispanics have lower rates of depression than Caucasians, and no significant difference in happiness. Interestingly, women are both happier and sadder than men, but don’t differ in average levels of happiness.
Religion: Religious people are somewhat happier and more satisfied with life than nonreligious people. Reasons posed for this include greater social support, and / or hope for the future and meaning in life.
To summarise, if you want to lastingly raise your level of happiness by changing the external circumstances of your life (which is only one part of the equation, which will be discussed later), you may wish to consider the following:
1. Live in a wealthy democracy, as opposed to a poor dictatorship (very important)
2. Get married (though we are still not entirely sure on whether marriage causes happiness)
3. Acquire a rich social network (most important)
4. Get a religion (a moderate effect)
Of course, we are talking about trends and correlations here involving large numbers of people. The extent to which you value these things will determine how much effect they have on you. But again, just going off the data…
To be happy, you NEEDN’T BOTHER with the following:
1. Making More money (unless you are dirt poor)
2. Staying healthy (paradoxically, it is important to think you are healthy though)
3. Getting as much education as possible
4. Changing your skin colour or moving to a sunnier climate.
These summary points are not meant as recommendations, merely they are food for thought.
In the next post I will discuss HOW MUCH CONTROL YOU HAVE OVER YOUR HAPPINESS. I’ll even dare to offer a formula and a percentage. Until then, comment below!