A Summary of Happiness Research

David Brooks brings ‘happiness research’ back to the wider public’s attention with a succinct summary of research into what does and does not make us happy:

Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow? […]

If you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.

Brooks goes on to look at the confusing correlations between happiness and wealth before discussing the wider “correspondence between personal relationships and happiness”:

The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, joining a group that meets even just once a month produces the same happiness gain as doubling your income. According to another, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year.

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask people if they trust their neighbors. Levels of social trust vary enormously, but countries with high social trust have happier people, better health, more efficient government, more economic growth, and less fear of crime (regardless of whether actual crime rates are increasing or decreasing).

via Fred Wilson

I discussed the ‘commuters paradox’ last year, noting that “a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office”.