Happiness – or “utility” in economics vernacular – is the topic of books, academic research and, controversially, studies by some governments. And since 2012, the United Nations has proclaimed 20 March International Day of Happiness, recognising happiness and well-being as universal life goals and important in public policies.
1. Thank the boss: It might sound strange but working has actually been found to make us happy. Or, more specifically, research finds unemployment reduces happiness by much more than just the loss of a wage. Remember this during frustrating times on the job.
2. Don’t work too hard: We can learn from professional athletes and what’s known in economics terms as tournament theory. Athletes can expend a lot of effort to produce a tiny improvement in performance. It may make sense for them – particularly if it means the difference between winning and losing – but for many occupations a costly struggle for a marginal improvement may not be worth it. Consider the probable pay-offs (and the opportunity costs) before working “too hard”.
3. Turn off the telly: People who watch lots of TV are unhappier than those who spend less time in front of the box, according to research. Busy people - or, in economics terms, people with significant opportunity costs of time – in particular were shown to regret the amount of time spent watching TV.
4. Spend time with the ones you love: Time with family and friends has been found to make us happy – with academic Nattavudh Powdthavee estimating that, for the average English person, seeing friends or family on most days rather than once or twice a week increases happiness by as much as would a pay rise of £15,000 (€18,000) a year. So for the unhappy TV watchers, missing out on quality time with family and friends might be part of the reason.
5. Ignore your neighbour: If we spend too much time thinking about the circumstances of neighbours and relatives, our happiness with how much we earn can end up being influenced more by what they earn rather than our own pay packets. In technical terms, it is referred to as a peer effect, or peer pressure. Author Dan Ariely writes in his book Predictably Irrational that a man’s satisfaction with his salary “depends on whether he makes more than his wife’s sister’s husband”. Ignoring your neighbour can shift the focus to an area over which you have a degree of control - your own life.
6. Cut the commute: Ask around and people will probably tell you they find travelling to and from work stressful and unpleasant. Economists agree. Researchers from the University of Zurich found workers with longer commutes systematically reported lower wellbeing. The “burden of commuting” may be mollified by higher earnings but negotiate hard as the study found the average person who spends 46 minutes a day travelling to and from work would need a pay rise of 19% to be as happy as the average person who doesn't commute.
7. Do stuff rather than buy stuff: Many happiness economists argue that buying experiences – such as going to a concert or travelling somewhere nice – makes people happier than buying objects – such as getting a big screen TV. In research paper Does consumption buy happiness? from the United States, authors write that experiences often mean spending time with others, which also boosts happiness.