As the old saying goes, money can’t buy you happiness, and now there is research to back it up. A study carried out at the London School of Economics has concluded that friendship and health can have a stronger bearing on overall happiness and satisfaction with life than the amount you earn.
The Study – ‘Origins of Happiness’
Led by Lord Richard Layard, former advisor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, the study looked at people’s satisfaction with different elements of their lives. Questions were asked of around 200,000 people from around Australia, Germany, the US, and the UK, with questions asking for a score of 1 to 10 for satisfaction in certain areas, such as relationships and career. Lord Layard’s aim in carrying out this research was to influence public policy towards improving happiness and wellbeing, rather than focusing on increasing wealth. His suggestion is that more money be invested in mental health care, since a reduction in the impact of anxiety, stress and depression can result in 20% increase in the overall happiness of the population.
Looking at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Better Life Index, the UK has recently fallen to 18th place when our happiness is compared with that of other developed nations. Lord Layard believes that the government need to move their focus from ‘wealth creation’ to ‘wellbeing creation’ in order to see an improvement in this area. He advises that more state-run organisations should be looking at ways to tackle anxiety and depression, including schools. Layard, based on his findings, believes that the result increased levels of employment and tax receipt, and fewer people requiring GP appointments and A&E support because of mental illness.
The study demonstrated that although money can increase your happiness under certain circumstances – for instance, if you are suffering stress due to financial difficulties – positive relationships are more likely to have a continuously positive affect on our mental wellbeing. To put the results into numbers, income inequality explained only 1% of the variation in happiness, while mental health explained 4%. The finger has been pointed at social pressures and standards, such as the pressure put on teenagers by the education system.
Friendship and Happiness – Focusing on mental wellbeing
Friendship and social interaction has long been considered to have an important role in our wellbeing, providing us with opportunities to share problems and positive experiences. The NHS suggests that in fact, the mental wellbeing of others can have a positive affect on those around them. Improving mental wellbeing does not rely entirely on the presence of others, however, and there are other elements that can increase your feelings of happiness and satisfaction. These include:
- Keeping active – scientifically speaking, exercise can cause chemical changes in the brain and increase your endorphin levels, triggering positive feelings. Exercise can also help to increase self-esteem, self-control, and can provide you with a positive challenge.
- Mindfulness – this means being aware of what is going on both within your own mind and body and in the world outside. By reconnecting with sensations and experiences that we would otherwise miss or take for granted, we are able to appreciate the world and our selves more fully.
- Giving to others – research has found that giving to others and treating others with kindness and respect can increase our own feelings of wellbeing. By carrying out more acts of kindness each day, a person can feel more self-worth and have an increased sense of purpose.
- Learning – This needn’t mean qualifications, exams and deadlines. Learning new skills or completing courses provides us with challenges and the opportunity for self-improvement. As a result, it can boost self-esteem and self-confidence. In addition, taking part in group learning situations gives more opportunity for interaction with other people, and the potential for new friendships.
Increasing your own sense of wellbeing and improving your mental health is something that is important for everyone, not just those who are known to suffer from mental illness. If you would like further advice on wellbeing, or if you feel you may need some support with mental health issues, you can speak to your GP or visit the NHS Choices website.