No matter where you\’re from, or what your personality, everyone yearns for happiness. And yet there is this eternal search for it, or at least more of it, with very mixed results. We could simply say that our Vedic meditation courses are the answer but we wanted to look at some data from trusted third party sources, not specific to Vedic or transcendental meditation courses.
So it was with great joy that I came across the results of some of the most comprehensive happiness surveys to date. I had wanted to share some enjoyable commentaries I encountered, but they were hidden behind a paywall.
So I\’m going to spend the first part of this blog summarising the best bits, and then I want to use that as a launching pad to pose questions about how we can do even better than what this insightful research data reveals to us.
For starters, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania were able to study in-depth data of over 30,000 people, giving us a comprehensive understanding on how income levels affect our happiness.
Interestingly, they debunked the previously held idea that any money above $75,000 a year gives no extra happiness, but what they were able to conclude with unambiguous conviction was the fact that we get significantly diminishing marginal returns from additional money. Which is to say that for every $10,000 extra you earn a year, you get less and less of a boost in your overall sense of well-being.
This is an extremely important finding, because most people assume that the extra happiness they feel from having a little extra wedge in their pocket can be extrapolated all the way into big digit territory. But that is clearly not the case. That\’s so important for us to understand, because if we make big life prioritisation decisions based on the subconscious expectation that the relationship is linear, we are going to end up making decisions that most certainly do not optimise our happiness.
Interestingly, Harvard also did a big study of thousands of millionaires and found there was very little gain in happiness as millionaires accrued more wealth, until they hit the $8-$10m threshold, when they suddenly got another boost in happiness levels that immediately began to plateau as they gained more. However, the effect was surprisingly small and equated to roughly half the boost in happiness one experiences from being married (Johnny and Amber excluded!).
It also only really made a difference when the money was earned, rather than merely inherited, which intuitively makes sense.
Perhaps the most important study of all is the Happiness project, where researchers pinged tens of thousands of people on their smartphones and asked them simple questions such as: \’Who are you with?\’ \’What are you doing?\’ \’How happy are you?\’
They then crunched together the vast trove of data they received (3 million data points) and helped to build a much more comprehensive picture of what the secret sauce is behind the inner smile.
Interestingly, the activities that make us happiest are sex, exercise and gardening! Even more fascinatingly, peeps get a big happiness boost from being with a romantic partner or friends but not from other people, like colleagues, children or acquaintances. Weather plays a surprisingly small role in happiness, although it acknowledges that people get a hearty mood boost on extraordinary days, such as those that are sunny and above 75 degrees. Unsurprisingly, people are consistently happier when they are out in nature, particularly near a body of water, and particularly when the scenery is beautiful.
That said, as clear cut as the conclusions were, we must also take care not to derive absolute conclusions from mean data. I was once lucky enough to spend a few days with the Head of a Boston Think Tank, and author of the book The End of Average, and he totally opened my eyes to how misleading statistical conclusions can be for explaining individual preferences and behaviour. For example, I have been way happier in South America with relatively consistent sun than I find myself in UK climatic conditions, but surprisingly that makes me an outlier, and of course, there\’s lots of other reasons why I may have found life here a breath of fresh air, regardless of the sunshine factor. And while I love being in nature, I\’ve still yet to personally feel the love on gardening, even though I recognise exactly why many people love it.
So whilst the findings aren\’t overly surprising, they are still a good reminder for us to stop and think about the life choices we are making, because we are all so desirous of an optimised level of happiness, and many of us make some pretty distorting decisions that absolutely do not accord with what we really seek.
Instead, we fall for traps that are unlikely to make us happy.
Many of us work far too hard at jobs with people we don’t like — indeed, research suggests that of 40 activities measured, work is the second-most-miserable of them all. The worst? Being so ill you are bed bound! Also of interest is the fact that when people are uncertain whether to quit a job, they can be nudged to quit. And when they quit, they begin reporting increased happiness in the months that follow. It isn\’t just a temporary spike high like so many of our attempts to find true happiness.
Related to this is the fact that many of us move to big cities and spend little time in nature, and when this was measured across all US cities, they found that New York City was the least happy. Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco also scored low. The happiest places included Flagstaff, Arizona, Naples, Florida, and pretty much all of Hawaii. And as many folks found out when the pandemic exodus took place, when people move out of unhappy cities to places with more natural environments, or where the local population is happier, their happiness increases also.
Of further interest, The Mappiness project found that, of 27 leisure activities, engaging with social media ranks last in how much happiness it brings. A randomized controlled trial on the effects of social media found that when people were paid to stop using Facebook, they spent more time socialising and reported higher subjective well-being.
All this analysis confirms what we all know deep inside, but often forget in the whirlwind of attainment our modern culture fosters; that simple natural things that have been around for millenia often make people the happiest.
As one New York Times journalist said in response to this survey data, the key to happiness is to \”Be with your love, on an 80-degree and sunny day, overlooking a beautiful body of water, having sex.\”
And what\’s of even more interest to me, is the fact that these answers only tell us some of the story. Because the data only alludes to the things the researchers were investigating, and says nothing about those metrics that got left out. So as much as I am well up for following the advise of the New York Times journalist, there is actually considerably more we can do to enhance our happiness, even beyond the lakeside lovemaking.
To begin with, there is a distinct lack of spiritual consideration in these studies, which reveals a lot about how our world continues to fail to ask so many of the right questions, and to look in all the right places, particularly in the academic field. Things that we might want to take responsibility for asking of ourselves, until academia catches up, are things like:
Do we feel meaning in our lives and in our work?
How much joy do we get from regular experiences of creative expression?
Are we engaging in a level of personal development that feels right to us deep down?
Do we feel a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves?
How much are we allowing ourselves to live spontaneously, and in a carefree way?
How much are stopping ourselves from doing the things we know we need to do?
There\’s many more questions like this we could ask of ourselves, and I encourage you to take some time today to not only reflect on the answers big data is giving us, but to consider what questions are not yet being asked that could help us find real and meaningful happiness in our lives.
One thing is for sure. We don\’t have to make life complicated, and we don\’t have try and use the attainment of \’more\’ to help us actually feel more. All we need do is tune in to what really makes us tick, and forget about trying to please other people, or make them think well of us. Every answer you are looking for, ultimately lies within.
Will & The Team at Beeja Meditation xxx