The art of being happy is all about mental health and relationship status, according to a new study led by researchers from the London School of Economics. The team also discovered that money and material wealth have very little impact on our overall happiness levels, and call for “a new focus for public policy: not ‘wealth creation’ but ‘wellbeing creation’.”
In their report, the authors note that life satisfaction among the general population, rather than economic growth, has been the single biggest predictor of the outcome of European elections since the 1970s. They set out to try and pin down the key factors that contribute to that elusive sense of contentment.
Looking at survey data from Australia, the UK, Germany and the US, the team examined the responses of more than 200,000 people to questions about what lifestyle elements most affect their happiness.
They discovered that mental health has by far the biggest influence, with depression and anxiety being responsible for around 20 percent of the variation in life satisfaction. Having a partner was also found to have a considerable impact on happiness, but income accounted for less than 2 percent of the overall variance.
The researchers then calculated that abolishing depression and anxiety would be four times more effective at ending misery than raising all incomes so that no one was earning below the 20th percentile of the national average.
Obviously, eliminating these disorders is not currently possible, although the authors found that treating depression and anxiety costs 18 times less than raising people above the poverty line, and may therefore provide a cost-effective strategy to reducing misery.
When looking at how childhood experiences affect adult happiness, the researchers discovered that emotional health as a youngster was far more significant than financial resources, and was the biggest determinant of a person’s wellbeing later in life.
The full results of this study are to be presented later this month at a conference that the authors say they “hope will usher in another revolution – where policymaking at last aims at what really matters: the happiness of the people.”