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Article by Sophie Astin | 8th August 2018

Reasons to be Cheerful!

Despite household budgets coming under pressure, impending Brexit and being knocked out of the World Cup by Croatia, people who live in England are happier than ever before. But what defines happiness...?

Aristotle once said that “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence” –  and today, more than 2,000 years later, happiness is still a hot topic. Numerous TED talks have been made on what makes us happy, how to buy happiness, raising happy children, how to be happier at work and a whole new branch of psychology has even been created in pursuit of the study of happiness. 

‘Positive psychology’ examines how ordinary people can become happier and more fulfilled. The belief is that happiness is more than simply positive mood; it goes much deeper and is a state of wellbeing and satisfaction that is at the heart of a good life.

Sounds simple enough, but of course happiness is a subjective phenomenon – what puts a smile on someone’s face may not do it for the next person. For me, it’s fresh sheets on the bed, a warm purring cat, breakfast in the garden, laughing with girlfriends… even a good hair day can lift my spirits! But there is ever-increasing evidence that happiness also has an ‘objective reality’; research shows that being happier doesn’t just make you feel better – it actually brings a host of potential health benefits. While experts claim that loneliness can be twice as deadly as obesity, happiness itself can be linked to healthier blood pressure, heart rate and immune system responses. 

Three good things

Writing down just three good things that you are grateful for or that happen to you everyday, has also been shown to boost your happiness and positivity, and whether keeping it private or sharing it on social media, a gratitude journal, documenting three good things has become increasingly popular. 

Reversing the idea that we focus too much on negative experiences and feelings, ‘three good things’, can help to rewire your brain to focus on the positives. 

Harvard Professor Shawn Achor explains in his book, The Happiness Advantage: “This exercise has staying power…the items you write down each day don’t need to be profound or complicated, only specific. You can mention the delicious take-out Thai food you had for dinner, your child’s bear hug at the end of a long day, or the well-deserved acknowledgement from your boss at work.”

Despite the rumblings of an impending Brexit, economic uncertainty and the continued threat of terrorist attacks, according to data on personal wellbeing from the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS), average ratings of life satisfaction and happiness increased ‘slightly’ in the UK between the years ending in June 2016 and 2017. 

The report shows that average ratings for quality of life in the UK now stand at their highest levels since the ONS began measuring life satisfaction in 2011, with just over 30% of those surveyed reporting that they were very happy. The happiest age group were those between 70-74, while women reported higher levels of personal wellbeing than men.

Researchers at the London School of Economics have also been collating data from thousands of contributors, using an app to log their levels of happiness at any given moment since 2010. The original Mappiness study (www.mappiness.org.uk/) investigated how our environments affect our happiness and the anonymous feedback received on how our workplaces, schools and communities affect our wellbeing means they can help organisations and governments create healthier, happier places for us to work, play and live. 

LSE academic, George MacKerron designed the Mappiness app, which works by sending alerts to users at random intervals, asking them how happy and relaxed they are feeling at that very moment, what they are doing and who they are with. Only responses received within an hour are included in the data, and analysis of the replies shows people are far happier when with their friends than with family. Activities which rate highly on the happiness scale include making love, going to the theatre or a concert, visiting an exhibition, museum or library, sports and gardening. At the other end of the spectrum, being ill in bed made us most depressed, reducing mood by 20.4%. 

Love where you live

Rightmove’s 2017 ‘Happy at Home’ survey revealed that Tunbridge Wells is one of the happiest places to live in the country. The only Kent entry to make the list, the historic spa town was named the fifth happiest place to live in Britain, with Royal Leamington Spa in the West Midlands as the cheeriest place to live in the entire country, followed by Leigh-on-Sea in Essex. 

The study asked 17,000 people how happy they are, where they live, and also asked them to rank 12 happiness factors, ranging from how friendly the neighbours are and how much people feel they can be themselves, to how good the local services are.

In 2013, a Unicef report rated Dutch children the happiest in the world when compared with 29 of the world’s richest industrialised countries. The UK came 16th and the USA ranked 26th. Children were assessed in several categories: material wellbeing; health and safety; education; behaviours and risks; and housing and environment. So why are Dutch youngsters happier than their British counterparts?

  • Dutch babies get more sleep.
  • Children have little or no homework at primary school and are trusted to ride their bikes to school. 
  • They are allowed to play outside unsupervised. 
  • They get to spend more time with their parents and have regular family meals.
  • They enjoy simple pleasures in life and are happy with second-hand toys.

 

The Secrets of Happiness test (https://secretsofhappiness.co.uk/) is a collaboration between the BBC and psychologists at the University of Liverpool who believe that we can make simple changes to improve the quality of our everyday life, to make us – and keep us – feeling happier. By collecting data from thousands of participants, the scientific study offers personalised tips on improving their mental wellbeing and mental health. 

Did you know?

The United Nations International Day of Happiness was launched on 28th June 2012, when the UN called on all 193 member states to give happiness, a ‘fundamental human goal’, a greater priority. 

Co-ordinated by Action for Happiness, a non-profit movement, the day was first celebrated in 2013 and is now held annually on 20th March. His Holiness the Dalai Lama (who happened to write a book on the same subject – The Art of Happiness) is the organisation’s patron and its aim is to ‘bring together like-minded people from all walks of life and help them take practical action, drawing on the latest scientific research’. 

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