The Happiness Survey

Man's Corner

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In my search to find the key to happiness (or ‘Happiness’ should I say, with a capital ‘H’), I have been doing a little research on how Happiness can be measured. As it turns out, it can be pretty difficult to measure something that is so subjective and personal.

There are a whole host of widely used questionnaires that seek to measure happiness (and unhappiness) levels and in themselves reflect the varying definitions and interpretations of Happiness of their developers – for example the Subjective Happiness Scale (Lyubomirsky & Lepper), the Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener, Emmons, Larsen and Griffin), the Panas Scale (Watson, Clark, Tellegen) and the Better Life Initiative developed by the OECD.

However the two surveys I found the most interesting were the Annual Population Survey carried out by the Office for National Statistics and the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire. The first, because of the rather interesting findings coming out of the survey and the second because it measures your personal happiness level against the average (and who doesn’t want to find out if they are better than average).

Findings from the ONS Annual Population Survey  

Statisticians analysed personal wellbeing data for more than 300,000 adults in the UK collected over a 3 year period from 2012 to 2015. Respondents were asked to rate their life satisfaction, the degree to which they feel what they do is worthwhile, their happiness and their anxiety. The results were pretty interesting:

  • People aged 40 to 59 were generally the least happy, had lower levels of life satisfaction and the highest levels of anxiety, with 50 to 54 year olds being the least happy of all. Even people aged over 90 reported better life satisfaction and happiness than those aged 40 to 59.
  • Happiness and life satisfaction plummeted amongst respondents aged 35 and over but picked up once respondents reached 60. People aged 65 to 79 reported the highest level of personal wellbeing although this declined again as they moved into old age (although those over 90 were still happier than those in middle age).
  • Women overall reported experiencing higher levels of anxiety than men, but they were happier and more satisfied with life than men.

The survey suggests that the unhappiness of the middle-aged population may be due to multiplying responsibilities which combine the pressures of having to look after young children and ageing parents, with the pressures of work and finances.

The Oxford Happiness Questionnaire

This questionnaire was developed by Michael Argyle and Peter Hills of Oxford Brookes University, and was originally published in 2002. It asks a series of 29 questions to which you can answer on a scale of ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’. It will then provide a score between 1 and 6 – 1 being ‘not happy’ and 6 being ‘too happy’ (yes it is possible!). The average person scores a 4 which is ‘somewhat happy or moderately happy’ (I scored a 4.1 – firmly average!).

The questionnaire doesn’t take long and can be repeated – do give it a shot at this Guardian link and see how visiting scientist at Georgetown University and founder of meaningandhappiness.com, Stephen Wright, interprets your score.