Saturday, 22 February 2014



  It is something that many humans strive to gain in their lifetime. For 1000s of years, the subject of happiness has been spoken about and spoken about not just among peers- but it’s even a subject that the government takes a great interest in. This isn’t surprising, as studies show a happy society creates a better functioning society and people also tend to be more productive when they are happier in themselves. In the last 40 years or so, thousands of studies have been carried on just on the subject of happiness. Everyday people have been involved in studies and surveys, and the level of their happiness has been measured. Their daily lives have been put under the microscope, and the balance of happiness has been scrutinized. Daily activities have been studied to see how daily activities affect people’s happiness. These included working, seeing friends, doing household chores or doing every day messages. On the other side of the coin, income, money, religion, family and location have also been studied in the pursuit to finding out what makes happy people. It lets us find out also what creates dissatisfaction in people.
 There are of course, both strengths and weaknesses in these studies and it does make you question can happiness actually be measured. Who or what makes the ultimate happy human being? The government claim these studies are to maintain the well being and happiness of their citizens. In the UK, happiness is also measured daily by our government. The statistics are easily found online and posted for everyone to see and compare. According to the Annual Population Survey collected between 2011-2013, the area of the UK you live in also effects the happiness and well being of its citizens. This is something that will be looked into in more depth later on.
When broken down on how happiness is measured, the Annual Population Survey says the following factors are used in the collection of the data.
·         Unemployment rate.
·         Percentage who were somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their job.
·         Percentage who volunteered in the last 12 months.
·         Percentage who were somewhat, mostly or completely satisfied with their amount of leisure time.
·         Percentage of people who have engaged with, or participated in, arts or cultural activity at least three times in the last year.
·         Adult participation in 30 minutes of moderate intensity sport, once a week.
It also looks at associated data such as stress at work, work-life balance and free time activities. There has been evidence to show that a good work/leisure balance does create happier people. Part of the study of national happiness includes looking at the leisure and physical sport activities of individuals.
‘Participation in both physical and non-physical leisure activities has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety, produce positive moods and enhance self-esteem and self-concept, facilitate social interaction, increase general psychological wellbeing and life satisfaction, and improve cognitive functioning’ (Haworth - Life, Work, Leisure and Enjoyment: the role of social institutions).
 You may wonder why the government measures well being. The National Statistic office states that they need a full picture of the economic and social progress of the country, including the impact on the environment. They believe that developing better measures of well-being and progress is a common international goal. Within the UK, they believe there is a commitment to develop wider measures of well-being so that government policies can be tailored to serve the people and they can focus on the things that matter. It gives the government a chance to make better decisions about the people and our future.
 Not only are happy people better for a better functioning society, they also live longer too and tend to be healthier. An example of this is a study released in 2000, where scientists analysed the records of 839 patients who have been psychologically tested 30 years earlier. Those who scored highest on a scale of pessimism were roughly 20 per cent more likely to die prematurely than optimists. People who are stressed, angry or distressed are more likely to suffer from health problems.  There have been various studies into the link between happiness and a longer, healthier life. In another recent study of 3,800 people aged 52-79 who stated they were the happiest, were least likely to die in the following five years than those who stated they were not so happy. Prof Andrew Steptoe, who led the study, said: "The happiness could be a marker of some other aspect of people's lives which is particularly important for health. For example, happiness is quite strongly linked to good social relationships, and maybe it is things like that that are accounting for the link between happiness and health.” There is no definitive proof that happier people live longer and healthier, but the evidence does stack up in their favour.

  When it comes to location and happiness, it’s interesting to see if the grass really is greener on the other side. Professor Richard Florida once surveyed 27,000 people questioning the effect of location and their happiness. He later quoted that location was “the third leg in the triangle of our well-being, alongside our personal relationships and work”. To me, location can be a great factor in determining someone’s happiness. Some areas have higher unemployment rates than others. This causes an off work/leisure balance which in turn has been proven to create unhappier people. There have been various surveys throughout the last few years in order to find the happiest city in the UK, showing that location does have an impact on the happiness of a group of individuals.  According to the Office of National Statistics, people living in remote Scottish islands are home to the happiest people living in the UK. Could it be true that a laid back, remote life surrounded by nature is the secret to successful happiness? In comparison, people in Stoke-on-Trent or in the West Midlands have very low levels of happiness and life satisfaction, and much higher anxiety levels. These figures were calculated recently, in October 2013. Unsurprisingly, the hustle and bustle of London city does not create happy citizens. Although London has good employment, and a lot of disposable income, there is very little life satisfaction and very high anxiety. This could be because of the very demanding, stressful jobs and also trouble in the mortgage department and living costs. The data was collated by polling 165,000 people. It paints a picture of well being across the UK, as explained before. The highest amount of people, who gave the top scores of life satisfaction, worthwhile and happiness where in Northern Ireland, compared to England who had the lowest proportion of people who gave themselves top scores for happiness and life satisfaction. Scotland had the lowest anxiety scores. They finished the survey by saying that the factors most associated with personal being were health, employment and people’s relationship status. It may be true that a more laid back approach to life and staying out of a high flying city may make a person happier, but it is down to the individual in some cases.
 Another massive measure and issue when it comes to happiness is money. Money can make the world go round. The economy has a big effect on the happiness of people. They say money cannot buy you happiness, however, a recent study has shown that money can actually buy people happiness- but only up to a point. National happiness actually raises as a country’s gross domestic product (GDP) per capita climbs. However, this tails off when the rising wealth creates higher aspirations, leading to a sense of disappointment. The study took place at Warwick University. “As countries get richer, higher levels of GDP lead to higher aspiration. There is a sense of keeping up with Mr Jones next door as people see higher levels of wealth and opportunity all around them and aspire to having more,” as quoted by Dr Eugenio Proto, the leader of the Warwick University study. “Any economy which  gives its citizens lots of aspiration cannot truly be a bad economy, but this aspiration gap – the difference between actual income and our desire for things like nicer homes and consumers goods – eats away at levels of life satisfaction. According to the most recent figures, the UK had a GDP per capita of roughly £22,700, which is above the level at which satisfaction appears to dip. There is also a question of inequality to consider here. It could be possible that our hypothetical Mr Jones is way richer than you, and your aspiration of keeping up with him is totally unrealistic. So it’s no surprise that the happiest countries are Denmark, Sweden and Finland – those that are most equal.”
 In developing countries with a GDP per capita below £4,100, people were 12 per cent less likely to report the highest level of life satisfaction than those in countries with a GDP per capita of around £11,000. This can be linked in with the measure of a location and the happiness of a person. However, even though wealth is linked to happiness, it’s strange how depression and anxiety is actually a lot more common these days. Either that or depression is more documented than it ever was in the past. As stated in “The Happiness Hypothesis”; “As the level of wealth has doubled or tripled in the last fifty years in many industrialized nations, the levels of happiness and satisfaction with life that people report have not changed, and depression has actually become more common.”  (Dr Eugenio Proto, 2013).
 It is common knowledge however, that a country riddled in debt with a low economic industry and hardly any jobs- is a lot more prone to have unhappy citizens. However, some people have contradicted this and said cutting off modern life and living a sustainable, low cost life has made them the happiest they have ever been in their life. Going green, and cutting out the cost has become a way of life for certain people- this is why I think it’s hard to measure how much money does actually improve someone’s happiness and whether or not they are just trying to keep up with society and what it has become. “Green” and “sustainable” living are becoming pretty popular in our rat race society, so maybe money isn’t the answer to happiness and is not much of a measure. Take this gentleman, for example, Who is to say he is not happy? A self-sufficient, low budget, happy family.

 When you come to thinking about happiness, and who ultimately studies it, you think of Psychologists. After all, they spend their life studying humans and their ways. Maslow created a hierarchy of needs table, simple for people to understand. Maslow wanted to understand what made people tick, and what ultimately made them happy. He believed there was a base to happiness, and used the simple form of a triangular diagram to prove basic human needs. This diagram is extremely popular and was invented around 1943-1954. The most important human needs are at the bottom of the triangle, and the needs work up from there in a hierarchy. Here is the hierarchy of needs according to Maslow:  

Every human has the desire and need to move up through this hierarchy according to Maslow. However, Maslow believes only 1 in 100 people in society will ever be fully satisfied and fill all desires. Although the above movements are shadowed in society daily, only 1 in 100 will fill all of the above so making only certain people self actualized according to Maslow. This may prove that there is no society on earth who will be complete with happy and content people, and it is up to the individual and their own circumstances on how their happiness is measured.   
'It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled? At once other (and “higher”) needs emerge and these, rather than physiological hungers, dominate the organism. And when these in turn are satisfied, again new (and still “higher”) needs emerge and so on. This is what we mean by saying that the basic human needs are organized into a hierarchy of relative prepotency'. (Maslow, 1943).
 In order to measure a man’s true happiness, he needs a bit of everything in life to keep his desires full. Maslow is basically saying there is no point in having all the money in the world but no one to love or no self esteem. A person will not feel so happy when this occurs. A person needs balance to be ultimately happy. Everyone has different choices however in what their creativity fulfilment may be, some people may love playing sports whilst others may love painting or arts and crafts. The hierarchy of needs is different for everyone thus proving that different things make people happy. He also believes you must fulfil one need before you move onto the other.  Although Maslow has a point, his studies can be criticized as he mainly based his studies on men and not many women were involved. You could also argue that some creative person who is extremely happy yet has lived in poverty all their life time will not fit the hierarchy. It is also possible for people living in poverty to love as well. Again, it goes back to the point that happiness seems to be an entirely individual thing which I am finding out more and more as I research the subject.

 I do believe there is some truth in the fact that you can measure happiness, however, I do believe it is on a very general scale and it would take forever to measure the perfect recipe for all people to be happy. It is understandable why the government measures happiness by doing surveys every year- it has been proven that the happiness of a country is important in keeping it orderly and functioning properly. Psychologists all over the world will tell you that happiness is measureable, and there are ways to become happier. Doing things such as getting the perfect work/leisure balance, keeping active, doing voluntary work, having great friendships and relationships, having a wonderful family and job, and also living in the right place are all apparent factors to the measure of how happy an individual can be. However, I also strongly believe that despite how similar all humans are, we are all different and happiness can come in different forms for different people. What makes one person tick may disgust another. There is also proof that clinically depressed people actually have a physical chemical imbalance, which may show that happiness is not always something people can control. In short, I believe following my research, that yes, happiness can be measured to an extent but we should never take away the fact that every human is an individual and always will be. As long as the majority of people come back with a positive outcome; I hope the government continue to measure happiness yearly. Life is the most important thing you’ll ever possess so it’s good that our well being is taken in to account! Some of the problems with measuring happiness may be the fact that someone you do a survey on may be having a tough day, and just put down how they are failing on that day in particular. The survey has to be done over time I feel, and an average could be taken to measure the individual’s happiness. It also needs to be done on a wide range of people, both employed and unemployed and people with different family life. You may send the survey out unknowingly to a large amount of unemployed people, or a large amount of employed and the replies back may not be the same for everyone. Maybe someday, somewhere- someone will find the perfect recipe but for now all the studies on the subject of measuring happiness are helping build a better world.

 By Jessica Sarah Martin. Opinions are my own.

No comments:

Post a Comment