Archive | October, 2015

Happiness checklist

4 Oct

image002Last week on the Radio 4 programme  You and Yours Professor Andrew Oswald provided a useful check list of the factors (apart from sheer luck) which help to mould our happiness and mental well-being. Oswald is professor of economics at Warwick University, and he jointly produced a report on the genetics of happiness which I wrote about last February.

The contributory factors which he outlined on the radio are :  

  • Our economic circumstances
  • Our intimate relationships
  • Friendship networks
  • What we eat
  • How we exercise
  • How long our commute to work is
  • Our external environment – whether our area and our air are clean and safe
  • Age (most people reach a low point in their forties, and then begin to get happier)
  • The unemployment rate
  • How strong the welfare state is

Oswald added, naturally, that there’s almost certainly also a genetic component to our happiness, which I suppose covers the depression which some people are prone to. Some of the factors he mentioned, including the genetic element, are ones we can do little about, apart from learning to adapt to them. But others are worth addressing if we want to increase our chances of happiness.

Can money make you happy? Only up to a point, Oswald concluded. Materialism can in fact be dangerous, he said, to the extent that we tend to compare our lives with those of other people, and this can make us unhappy if we feel we’re not as well off as others. This is the main reason why he thinks levels of happiness here and in the US have not changed much since the 1990s (or 1970s in the case of the US) when statistics first began to be kept. Though both countries are nowadays richer, mass media mean that both here and across the Atlantic we have an ever increasing ability to compare how we’re doing with others – to look over our shoulders all the time instead of staying inside our own skins. And this can make us discontented.