All well and good?

Hannah ThompsonYouGovLabs and UK Public Opinion Website Editor
April 20, 2011, 12:15 AM GMT+0

If you're British and over 60, you are more likely to be happy than your younger compatriots, our research into wellbeing reveals. Scotland is the happiest region, and London the least happy, our results reveal. In general, Britons view themselves as happy and satisfied, and consider most endeavours in their lives to be worthwhile, but our specific indicators of wellbeing have registered a downturn in the amount of control people feel they have over their personal situation.

The results come as the Government continues to try and measure the population’s wellbeing, while the Action for Happiness campaign, which aims to help people take positive steps towards improving their mindset, recently launched in the UK to much publicity.

Over 60 or living in Scotland? You’re likely to be happiest

We ran the 4 questions written by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) that will be appearing on the national Integrated Household Survey this month (results have not yet been published), and also re-ran some of our own questions, originally asked in November last year, to see if people’s happiness levels have changed in the last six months.

  • Those aged 60 and over are the happiest age group. When asked to rate their overall satisfaction with their lives on a scale of 0 to 10, the average score was 6.8, compared to a national average of 6.3.
  • The age group 40-59 are the least happy, with a mean life satisfaction score of only 5.8.
  • Scotland was the happiest region. When asked how happy they felt yesterday on a scale of 0 to 10, their scores had an average of 6.5, compared to a national average of 6.2
  • London was the least happy region. When asked how happy they felt yesterday, Londoners’ scores averaged just 5.9.

Downturn in happiness

However, in response to our own questions, which ask people how positively or negatively they feel about specific aspects of their lives, the picture looks slightly less rosy, with a significant downturn across several areas since last November.

  • 17% of Brits in general feel positive about their influence on the world around them, compared to 41% in November
  • 39% feel positive about their prospects for the future, compared to 52% previously
  • 39% feel positive about their ability to control their overall situation, compared to 46% at the end of last year

Any number of factors could have influenced these results. The downturn in the amount of control people feel they have over their lives could reflect recent disasters in New Zealand and Japan, which may have reminded people of their own insignificance in the face of nature. It could, for example, also be an indictment of the social upheaval of recent months, which has seen hundreds of thousands spill onto the streets in protest over tuition fees, as wider economic cuts continue to bite amid a period of political instability.

Concurrently, wellbeing is notoriously difficult to gauge. Our results show that the public has become more sceptical about the idea of measuring wellbeing than when the news that it was to be measured was first announced in November.

  • 66% now feel that wellbeing is too personal to be measured on a national level, compared to 38% in November
  • 60% feel that the Government is wasting money in trying to measure wellbeing, compared to 33% last year

Calculating the ‘happiness index’

By asking the nation questions about their wellbeing, the Government hopes to develop a more rounded view of the impact of policies on society; a so-called ‘happiness index’. It is proposed that the success of many policies may not be reflected in conventional, purely economic measures of progress such as GDP, but may be beneficial to society in other ways; policies such as the banning the sale of alcohol to minors, for examples. While such regulation may not contribute to economic growth, it could register a positive impact on a measure of society’s overall health and happiness.

Despite criticisms, Prime Minister David Cameron has said that establishing what makes people happy is ‘the serious business of Government’, and strongly rejects claims that the initiative is ‘woolly and impractical’.

See the survey details and full results