Are people in the UK about to become unhappier?

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October 19th, 2016

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Every year since 2011, the Office of National Statistics has been conducting the personal well-being survey[1].  In it they ask a large sample of UK adults about how satisfied they are with life, the extent to which they feel things they do in life are worthwhile, how happy they feel and how anxious they feel.

When collected over time, personal well-being data can provide an indication of how the well-being of a nation is changing. Interestingly, personal well-being has improved across each of the measures over the 5 year period.  However, things are starting to slow down, with this year seeing the first instance where there has not been an annual improvement across all of the measures.  Life satisfaction is the only measure of personal well-being which has increased in the UK when comparing the financial years ending 2015 and 2016.

Research[2] has found that economic stability has a large effect on the happiness of society and we note that this survey was conducted with the backdrop of Brexit campaign, but before the vote had taken place.  We ask therefore, what can be done in the wake of the Brexit vote and under such uncertain economic conditions to prevent happiness levels plummeting?

Firstly, let’s look at what makes us happy. Is it our health, wealth, work or relationships?  Clearly they all have an impact. Richard Layard, Professor of Economics at LSE and author of the book Happiness argues that happiness is influenced by our genes, upbringing and our external circumstances. Whilst nature and nurture have a great deal to do with our levels of happiness so do the choices we make about how we live our lives, at work and at rest.  I am reminded of the Serenity Prayer[3]:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference

Whilst some parts of our lives might be out of our control, it is important to remember that there are other parts that are not. Try to be that person who helps others, rather than yourself; be compassionate at work[4], support a colleague even when those around you may not be; and trust and be trustworthy.  These are a few ways in which you can make a difference not only to your own happiness but also to the happiness of others.

Author: Julia Wellbelove is a Chartered Psychologist and Senior Researcher at Roffey Park

[1] Source: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/bulletins/measuringnationalwellbeing/2015to2016

[2] Source http://www.actionforhappiness.org/why-happiness

[3] Authored by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

[4] Read more on Roffey Park’s compassion research and model at https://www.roffeypark.com/expertise/compassion-at-work/