17 Jun The key to happiness in life
Whether money can buy you happiness has been debated since the Dark Ages, but while money helps, say the experts, it’s not the answer.
And even though genetics play a part, people can do a lot to improve their happiness scores.
The pursuit of happiness grips the Western world – happiness is big business. In Sydney last week 3500 industry leaders, psychologists, company managers, consultants and personal development experts attended a four-day conference on happiness and its causes.
On the other side of the world, more happiness experts met at a conference in Siena, Italy, where they debated whether happiness was a meaningful policy target.
Attending that conference was happiness researcher Dr Nattavudh Powdthavee, a member of a London University research team which, using data from 10,000 people surveyed for the British Household Panel Survey, concluded that money buys little happiness. Instead, good relationships, social interaction and good health rate highly.
AdvertisementThose surveyed rated their level of happiness and answered questions on their health, social relations and wealth. The researchers then calculated how much money people would need to earn to move up a life satisfaction scale. And they calculated how far up or down the scale people would move after life-changing events, such as ill health or a marriage break up, and changing social relationships.
An increase in the level of social involvements was worth an extra $222,500 a year in terms of life satisfaction, nine times the average household income at the time of the survey. Excellent health was worth an extra $768,000 a year, whereas a serious illness was worth minus $1.2 million. Marriage was worth an extra $136,000 a year and living with someone scored even higher at $208,000. Being widowed was minus $520,000 a year and separation was minus $145,700 a year. Meeting friends and relatives most days was worth $161,000 and chatting regularly with neighbours was worth $101,000.
Powdthavee says one explanation is that social interaction requires our attention so the happiness lasts longer in our memory than a pay rise.
Happiness guru Dr Howard Cutler, who co-wrote The Art of Happiness with the Dalai Lama in 1998, believes money has little to do with happiness once basic needs are met. And he believes people can work on being happy by changing the way they think and react to the world.
Cutler says that by learning to take control of beliefs that cause destructive emotions such as anger or jealousy, and replacing them with different perceptions, we can improve our levels of happiness and contentment.
The Dalai Lama calls it training the mind. Cutler says it’s about perceiving reality more clearly – and the technique doesn’t need hours of expensive therapy to learn.
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