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BBC survey on the causes of happiness
by Matthew - Monday, 6 December 2010, 10:24 AM
To mark the launch of Radio 3's Free Thinking Festival - "The Pursuit of Happiness" (5-7 November 2010) - the BBC have published results of a nationwide survey on happiness.

According to the survey, most people believe money is still the key to happiness.

Of the 2,000 people surveyed, 65% cited finances as the main cause of personal unhappiness; placing it far beyond other causes including family problems (32%), health (27%) and the welfare of their children (21%).

Money was again top of the list when people were asked what would make them happier:
  • 68% said they would need a better salary to make them happier in their employment
  • 50% stated that money was the one thing that would make them happier overnight – far outweighing the other factors listed including spending more time with family (9%), better health (9%) or a new job (8%)
  • 88% of people said that winning the lottery would make them happier
On living in Britain, those in East Anglia and Yorkshire reported being the happiest about where they live (over 80%) with the three biggest reasons being green spaces, good local facilities and a friendly local community.

What does Wellness Insights say?

People in general don't seem to be very good at predicting what will make them happy.

Harvard Professor of Psychology Daniel Gilbert has published several studies showing that our ability to predict our feelings or emotions after future events is surprisingly poor.

In one study he asked more than 100 employees about how they felt before and after an important promotion. Whatever happened, in terms of success or failure, the people in the study were poor at predicting their future emotional state. Those who gained the promotion felt less happy than expected and those who failed to get the new job felt less bad than predicted.

According to the BBC study, people believe that winning a large amount of money is the thing that will make them happy overnight. That's probably true, but the increase in happiness may not last for long. Studies have shown that people who win the lottery usually return to their previous levels of happiness within about 12 months of their win. Furthermore, those who win the lottery tend to gain less pleasure from the simple things in life after they've won.

Whilst money is linked to long-term happiness, that's only true up to a certain point. In the UK earning more than about £40 - 50k doesn't seem to buy any more happiness. Whilst a 'comfortable' income is clearly important, the idea that winning the lottery will lead to lasting happiness doesn't seem to be supported by research.

On the other hand, people do seem to recognise the things that contribute to their existing levels of happiness, such as green space and a vibrant local community. Many studies have shown that supportive relationships and the natural environment both have a positive effect on emotional wellbeing.

Sources: Radio 3 survey (http://www.bbc.co.uk/pressoffice/pressreleases/stories/2010/11_november/02/free.shtml)
Brickman, P., et al (1978). Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Vol 36, No. 8, 917 - 927.

(Edited by Matthew - original submission Thursday, 11 November 2010, 01:11 PM)

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