Money cannot buy you happiness

The most important sources of happiness are good health and freedom from financial worries, Professor Vani Borooah found.

He studied more than 3,000 interviews from the Poverty and Social Exclusion in Northern Ireland survey and the results of his research were published recently in the Journal of Happiness Studies.

Professor Borooah said the research has important implications for policy makers. Too much emphasis is placed on generating wealth, particularly private wealth. Instead there should be more attention paid to devising policies which would lead to greater happiness, for example, by tackling mental health problems – one of the greatest sources of unhappiness.

Among his findings were:

Of the 1,950 people who described themselves as happy, only 41% regarded their standard of living as high. The key to happiness was satisfaction with one’s standard of living.

Health – particularly mental health – played a vital role in happiness. People with even mild mental health problems were more likely to be unhappy than people suffering from severe physical health problems such as heart conditions or back pain. At least one third of those with severe physical health problems described themselves as happy, but only 4% of those with severe mental health problems said they were happy. Some 60% said they were unhappy.

Freedom from financial worries was a major factor in happiness. People who were divorced or separated or widowed were more likely to be unhappy because of the financial implications of their new status.

People living in rural areas were more likely to be unhappy than those living in towns or cities. Rural isolation was a major contributory factor to their unhappiness.

Professor Borooah said: “There is an undue concentration of both public and private resources on raising national income: ‘undue’ because making people richer does not necessarily make them happier or, at any rate, not by enough to justify the outlay of resources in raising income.

“Now that we are able to measure what makes people happy, we should be working towards creating those factors rather than working toward income generation.

“For example, as Professor Richard Layard of the LSE emphasises, improving health, particularly mental health, would be an effective way of making people happier. It is relatively cheap to provide psychotherapy – an effective way of treating mental ill-health – yet there is a shortage of psychotherapists because we don’t invest in them. We should be putting more money into providing such services.

“Also, as Professor Layard points out, there are more people today on incapacity benefit than on unemployment benefit. Many of those on incapacity benefits are suffering from depression or other mental health problems. If the country wants to get more people into work then it must tackle these mental health issues.”

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