The Data Behind Happiness

Folks are doing internet searches for the word “happy” more than ever before. And no, the Pharrell Williams song released late in 2013 isn’t single handedly driving the interest. The upward trend clearly started before the song was released!

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With several senseless acts of violence across the globe in recent months, we decided to devote this post to a brighter topic: what makes people happy how do they avoid stress?

Key Points:

1. Income plays a role in happiness

2. Relationship issues are a leading cause of stress

3. Genetics may play a large role in overall happiness

Motivation for this post stems from Samuel W. Bennett’s Get Data.

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1. Life Satisfaction and Income

Scholars have long opined that once basic needs are met, higher income has no implication on a higher state of well-being. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers of the University of Michigan assessed the validity of this claim in a recent study. After analyzing multiple definitions of “basic needs” and multiple questions about well-being they found “no support” for the claim and concluded:

The relationship between well-being and income is roughly linear-log and does not diminish as income rises. If there is a satiation point, we are yet to reach it.

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2. Leading Causes of Stress

The Social Readjustment Rating Scale was created in 1967 by Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe of the University of Washington School of Medicine.

A total value for stressful life events can be calculated by adding up the points associated with each event that have experienced in the last 12 months.

150 points or less means a relatively low amount of life change and a low susceptibility to stress-induced health breakdown.

150 to 300 points implies about a 50% chance of a major health breakdown in the next 2 years.

300 points or more raises the odds to about an 80% chance of a major health breakdown.

Notice that the top 3 stress-inducing events deal with spousal loss or separation.

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3. Sexual Behavior and Happiness

David G. Blanchflower and Andrew J. Oswald of the National Bureau of Economic Research discovered this relationship.

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4. Annual Household Income and Happiness

The same Stevenson and Wolfers study as mentioned in (1) showed that annual household income and happiness had a direct, positive relationship. The main exception is the $40–50k earners, where a happiness rut is observed — both in this graph and the one below.

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5. Annual Household Income and Life Satisfaction

According to this graph, 6.4 out of 10 (or more) people are satisfied once they are $50k (or greater) annual earners.

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6. Where Happiness Comes From

Sonja Lyubomirsky, a UC Riverside professor of psychology, authored The How of Happiness in 2008. In it, she wrote that research on twins has found that our genes may determine an “innate baseline for how happy we’ll be during our lives.” A mere 10%, she argues, is related to our situation. The rest (40%) is up to us she says — there’s something happy about having a big chunk of our potential well-being under our own control.

See the interactive plot

7. Is Today a Good Day?

The 2014 Pew Research Global Attitudes Survey posed the question: “Is today a good day?” to folks in countries around the world. Survey results revealed that fewer people in wealthy nations are reporting that today is in fact a “good day.” The U.S. was an exception, and the United Kingdom and France fell above the line of best fit.

See the interactive plot

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