Want to know how to be happy? It’s complicated!

Trying to understand wellbeing though national wellbeing figures is like trying to understand what Britain is like by looking at Google Earth’s snapshots of it.

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Gaia Marcus is a researcher for the RSA

Earlier this week, the Office of National Statistics released the first annual results of its ‘Measuring National Wellbeing Programme’.

Happy-faceThey found that people’s perceived quality of life varies according to who they are, what groups they are part of – gender, ethnicity, profession – and where they live.

But what do these happiness figures actually tell us? Can they lead individuals, communities or policy-makers to work out how to make things better?

For politicians and policy-makers these numbers could become something of a barometer, an indicator of how various policies are working, especially if measured over time. But how do they help us make decisions about what will improve our own wellbeing?

For now, the numbers tell us– by and large – that the happiest places are the least deprived areas; that the most satisfied are those with a professional job, who are married and who own a house.

Does that mean we won’t be happy unless we get rich, get married, and get on the property ladder? You’d hope not.

For the individual, the single figures don’t mean much: we aren’t equations. As a woman (happier than men, but more anxious), living in Bath (the most satisfied area in the UK) you might consider moving to the Shetlands (the happiest place). But would that make you unemployed (and therefore less happy and less satisfied)?

Maybe you might marry in the Shetlands (good for most things) and have children (generally understood to lower your happiness but increase life satisfaction). Trying to live your life driven by what statistically speaking makes you happy, would probably make you quite sad (in more ways than one).

 


See also:

Prioritising the wellbeing index is one of the few progressive things this government has done 26 Jul 2012

The left and right of happiness 22 Apr 2012

TaxPayers’ Alliance make a mockery of themselves by denying wellbeing evidence 28 Jul 2011


 

We are more complex than single figures. What contributes to making you happy or satisfied with your life is not gender, or age, or employment: it’s a big mix of everything. A mix of You: your personal attributes, the things you do, where you live, who you know… all interacting together, all at once.

We need better stories: to start looking at how people get to happy; to see these figures as very necessary starting point.

The RSA’s Connected Communities team has been doing a lot to try and understand how people and communities make wellbeing work. In our action-research on social connections and wellbeing in seven sites in England it seems that people’s wellbeing and happiness is a delicate balancing act with those around you being a factor.

In our initial analysis so far we found that each area has its quirks. In one area with high unemployment and low level of qualifications it seems that being unemployed affects your wellbeing less if you have no qualifications: the unemployed with qualifications fare worse than the unemployed without qualifications.

In one rural area it seems that the more people you name as friends, the less being a single mother has a negative effect on your wellbeing. On the other hand in five of the seven areas we looked at, being a single parent has no significant effect on wellbeing. In a very deprived inner-city area we found that ‘not being white’ seemed correlated with poorer health and lower wellbeing, and that the more people that people knew, the worse this effect became.

If wellbeing being and people are complex, and money is tight, what to do? I think we need more experiments, more willingness to get lost. Trying to understand wellbeing though national average wellbeing figures would be like trying to understand what Britain is like by looking at Google Earth’s snapshots of it. With these figures we have a map and we have some markers.

Now we need to be ready to get lost and to ask questions to ensure we can find a way to happy.

 


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23 Responses to “Want to know how to be happy? It’s complicated!”

  1. the thought menu

    Want to know how to be happy? It's complicated! http://t.co/1Kh0wBWW by @theRSAorg's @la_gaia

  2. Gaia Marcus

    Look what i wrote! RT @leftfootfwd: Want to know how to be happy? It's complicated! http://t.co/erkWQg37 by @theRSAorg's @la_gaia

  3. Gaia Marcus

    The pic looks *a lot* like me as a kid RT @leftfootfwd: Want to know how to be happy? It's complicated! http://t.co/erkWQg37

  4. NewsatLeft

    Want to know how to be happy? It’s complicated! http://t.co/pqeqbOJD #GoodSociety #happiness #WellbeingIndex

  5. NewsatLeft

    Want to know how to be happy? It’s complicated! http://t.co/THSDoFWb #GoodSociety #happiness #WellbeingIndex

  6. Pulp Ark

    Want to know how to be happy? It’s complicated! http://t.co/Xr1HXtdC #GoodSociety #happiness #WellbeingIndex #muslim #tcot #sioa

  7. Political Planet

    Want to know how to be happy? It’s complicated!: Trying to understand wellbeing though national wellbeing figure… http://t.co/yr4rxXYe

  8. why sohappy

    Want to know how to be happy? It's complicated! – Left Foot Forward: Left Foot ForwardWant to know how to be hap… http://t.co/J0qvHgsz

  9. leftlinks

    Left Foot Forward – Want to know how to be happy? It’s complicated! http://t.co/0yU5nkgl

  10. Vinay Gupta

    Want to know how to be happy? It's complicated! http://t.co/1Kh0wBWW by @theRSAorg's @la_gaia

  11. Fran Parry

    Want to know how to be happy? It’s complicated!: Trying to understand wellbeing though national wellbeing figure… http://t.co/yr4rxXYe

  12. Shamik Das

    Want to know how to be happy? It's complicated! http://t.co/1Kh0wBWW by @theRSAorg's @la_gaia

  13. Ed209

    wow how great! i feel happier already

  14. Anonymous

    Far better the spend the cash on producing an accurate set of government accounts

  15. Sam Thomas

    You just can't get away from @la_gaia this week #ff. Here she asks what we really learn from happiness data http://t.co/w2BqUWes

  16. Jacqui Cooper

    Want to know how to be happy? It's complicated! http://t.co/ZSkQkiGy

  17. Which way to happy: Data is a map, now we need to figure out the way | Left Foot Forward

    […] See also: • Want to know how to be happy? It’s complicated! 27 Jul […]

  18. Anonymous

    Ooh, ooh, I know!

    Adequate food, shelter, utilities, some clothing. The basics, which increasingly many can’t afford.

  19. Anonymous

    They’re fine. How about YOUR accounts get investigated by HMRC, after they get an injection of backbone?

  20. Jordhey Barden

    Want to know how to be happy? It's complicated! | Left Foot Forward: In our action-research on social connection… http://t.co/5WSy9xAP

  21. Marshall Marcus

    Happiness statistics = equation for Happiness. Not. .http://tinyurl.com/bovjxza

  22. Marshall Marcus

    Happiness statistics = equation for Happiness. Not. http://t.co/5oQvCU2j

  23. Clarebelz

    These studies make me really angry.

    I realise that we’re all different and so we all view happiness differently, but does it take all of this research to understand what generally makes people happy? It’s a waste of money and quite frankly an insult when so many people are having their lives destroyed via austerity measures.

    As Newsbot9 relates below, a good starting point is making sure that all people have enough of an income to provide for basic needs. For goodness sake, there have been many studies by psychologists in recent years that have come to the same conclusions, so why do we need more?!

    I’ll tell you what has made me unhappy, anxious and depressed since the coalition came to power. I’ve lived in fear. I don’t know if I’ll have a home next year, let alone an adequate income. The local authority has also just cut my care plan by 80%, yet I still have to pay them £3000 per year out of my benefit income. They do not fund anything other than help in the shower and eating. They don’t fund carers to push wheelchairs to help with getting to important appointments, shopping or social activities. They no longer fund laundry. They no longer fund carers running errands like fetching money or going to the post office. They no longer fund help with my multi-fuel burners, my only source of heating and hot water, so carers aren’t allowed to fetch coal in, clean out the fires or light them. Cleaning is an absolute ‘no-no’. In fact the LA don’t fund anything that helps a chronically disabled person to lead a normal and dignified life.

    I’m supposed to pay for the loss of 21 hours a week out of my DLA income, yet they claw most of that back. When I’ve paid for other necessary things connected to my disability which DLA is supposed to fund, I have £10 left. So I’m supposed to fund all transport and extra care out of that, which obviously isn’t going to happen.

    Like other chronically disabled people, life was already hard and very much limited. Despite that I worked hard to remain positive. Nevertheless, I’m having anxiety therapy now because of the consequences of this government’s cuts agenda. It’s ludicrous though isn’t it? The government has ploughed money into ‘talking therapies’, so that people like me can find ‘happy’: so that I can sit here ‘happy’ that I’m wearing dirty clothes; smiling whilst my house smells; laughing because I have no food in today since I can’t afford the taxi fare to the shop (and I can’t afford an internet shop because of a minimum spend policy); jovial that I’m cold because I can’t carry a bucket of coal, that even if I did have help with the fires, I can no longer afford fuel due to the bedroom tax and council tax benefit cut; contented that I’m isolated because I can’t afford to mix socially or get out of the house; jolly that I’m in trouble with the tax office because I couldn’t post the cheque due for the remaining carers; cheerful that I don’t know if I’ll have a home at all: oh yes, I’m so very near ‘happy’ thanks to the condemnation.

    These studies are a complete sham. When you totally remove any form of person’s security, you cannot expect them to find ‘happy’.

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