It’s amazing what people do to make themselves happy. They travel, go on holidays, have kids, buy a big house, a good car, interact socially with each other etc.
No matter how harmful our actions end up looking, they’re usually driven by our desire to become happier!
To release these chemicals in our body that provide a sense of warmth, satisfaction, similar to having an orgasm but in a very light version 🙂
You know… happy!
So I guess like with anything when trying to happy it’s quite important to understand what the building blocks of happiness are and take it from there. I’m definitely not a happiness guru and have not done any research or anything. But I’m generally a satisfied person who’s always curious.
This week my Pocket list included the new Office of National Statistics report: “What matters most to our life satisfaction”. It was a long read, about 30 mins reading time. Thank you Monevator for bringing that up.
Looks like there are some common themes between the more satisfied and the less satisfied people, at least here in the UK. Maybe there are some lessons we can take.
Everything starts with health. For a long time now I’m writing about investment strategies. And I have a trello card in my TODO posts called “Health: The best investment you can make”. Who knows when I’ll get around to writing that. But I’m sure you get the gist of it. Most blog posts could be just a tweet, anyway 😉
So yeah, health is the factor contributing the most to our personal well-being. Who cares if one is rich if they’re suffering from health issues every day. Would you trade places with them?
Apparently, money is not the answer to everything. I recently saw a Twitter poll: Would you want to be rich and 80 years old or broke and 20? This sums it up nicely.
But comparing age with health is actually misleading. People suffering from health problems in their 40s and 50s may see life as a constant struggle compared to a healthy happy person in their 70s. I’ll come to age in a second.
The good news is that health, most of the times, is up to us to improve by making a few small changes in our lives. And more importantly, the worse we are right now the bigger gains we can see quickly. Eating well is the first that comes to mind. Most of the times, eating more vegetables and fruits while also cutting sugar and unhealthy food has the biggest effects. You know… not eating processed stuff like microwave meals, bacon, crisps, coke, sausage rolls, alcohol etc. I do it, you do it, probably everyone does it to some extent.
Usually, people want to go from zero to hero. They either never try or they give up when they go from full junk to avocados all day. Replacing just some of our bad habits gradually should do the trick. Both mentally and physically.
Exercising is the second factor that can improve our body and our mood. I’m saying mood because health is mental too. And exercising (including sex!) has a great effect on our health, and subsequently on our happiness as the report also shows.
The next in line is age. So if you, like me are in your 30s or 40s, you have an easy excuse of “the age group with the least happiness” to start with 🙂 Not sure why this is. I would expect that a high number of responsibilities make life a burden? The responsibility to work work work work work and achieve something great in our career.
Or the lack of free time because of… well work plus taking care of both children and parents. Which allows less time for exercise, which can positively affect our mood.
I must admit I’m 34 and I’m happier in my 30s compared to my 20s. I attribute it mainly to the fact that, to some extent, I now know what I want and I’m lucky to have found a loving partner and meaningful relationships around it. My income levels were also boosted dramatically in my 30s which allowed me to spend more.
Not that money can buy happiness, but there is a certain level up to which earning more brings you more happiness indeed. Can’t remember, I think that’s something like 60k annual income. Beyond that, happiness seems to plateau.
Anyway, it’s good to have some extra cash left over after paying groceries and bills. I take some satisfaction from eating out, travelling occasionally and growing our passive investment pot. Or maybe I’m happier because
I haven’t had children yet 😉
Apparently, age is a weird one. It follows an S-shape. You live a satisfying life until you reach 29 after which it drops till you reach 50 again. Then your personal well-being goes up again until you reach 70+ when it starts declining again.
Next in line is home. And people owning their own place outright are at the top of the list, along with those owning it on a mortgage. Private renting and social housing come next in that order. This makes sense as purchasing a house gives you a sense of achievement too.
The feeling of owning your place should definitely be considered as a factor in the “Rent vs Buy” debates around the internet. As I’ve written before, let’s not forget about the quality of life you will have when you own a nice place compared to the compromises you will be making when renting.
On a similar note, I like how the report focuses on household spending rather than household income. Spending correlates to a higher degree to how we rate our life than income. But spending alone says nothing. How we spend our money matters the most, not how much we spend.
For example, money spent on high mobile bills, food and insurance doesn’t make us as happy as when we spend it on experiences such as holidays and eating out. Recreation and furnishing are two more positive contributors to our satisfaction. That makes me slightly less guilty for spending 2k on a couch 😛
So if you’re to spend your money, spend it on things that make you happy! But I want to highlight this quote from the report: Interestingly, both household spending and household income have less of an impact on life satisfaction than other personal and household circumstances.
To add to that, I’d say that I find it fascinating that the bottom group scores 7.3 and the top one scores 8.0. The second and the fourth have only 0.1 difference.
So spending more to make myself happy is definitely not the answer. It’s probably one of the last levers I want to pull when building my happiness picture.
As expected, having meaningful relationships is vital to our life satisfaction. With reference to the married (or civil partnership) couples, all other groups are less satisfied – whether that’s widowed, separated, single and divorced, in that order. These findings surprised me, to be honest. I’d expect single people who party and have more free time to be happier. But I guess it’s in our human nature to feel loved and needed by others. Loneliness probably drops life satisfaction quite a bit.
What’s the solution? Tinder? Probably not. I’d say meaningful relationships which are hard to find in our digital age. It depends on people’s personality and in my humble opinion, luck. Although to some extent we build our own luck, some people have it better than others.
To add to my surprise, having kids adds to our life satisfaction. I cannot tell since I’m only new to this club. But based on what others say about kids I keep hearing “Kids are great BUUUUUUT this and this and that”. It’s what’s after the BUT that matters.
So are they lying? Is it because our life gets a stronger purpose despite the kids being very demanding?
Anyway, I get annoyed every time I hear people complaining about having kids. If you’re so frustrated, then don’t have any! It’s not that you don’t know what to expect. Stop whining. Although I have to thank the complainers at the same time because they’ve dropped my expectations so low that now having a kid seems to me like a fantastic experience 🙂
That’s all folks. I’m really happy that the ONS comes up with useful reports and I’ll keep watching this space.
As always, I’m trying not to rely solely on any survey to guide my life. There are different personalities and variables that apply to each one of us. But as a group, I believe there are some lessons to be learnt from other people.
I have plenty of books in my reading list focused on happiness. I’ll soon choose one of these:
- Stumbling on Happiness
- Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill
- The Idiot Brain: A Neuroscientist Explains What Your Head is Really Up To
- How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World
Please suggest some more if you know!
To all the math geeks out there, the data analysis in the ONS survey was done using linear and logistic regression.