We team up with University of Bolton to recreate mass observation happiness survey

The original poster from 1938

Letters from the mass observation project

Professor Jerome Carson and Sandy McHugh from the University of Bolton

First published in News This Is Lancashire: Photograph of the Author by , education reporter

WHAT makes you happy?

That’s the question the University of Bolton and The Bolton News is putting to the people of the borough as it replicates a social experiment carried out in the town in 1938.

With many people having started the New Year resolving to be happier, academics want to know — what is happiness?

They are asking people to take part in a survey, which was first carried out more than 70 years ago and was inspired by the mass observation project.

The groundbreaking project was aimed at the documenting life in Bolton — which was chosen to represent a typical northern town.

Psychology Professor Jerome Carson is leading the study with researcher Sandie McHugh.

Professor Carson said: “Today happiness is a Government buzz word with the Office of National Statistics measuring happiness.

“It is a major issue. Yet Bolton was at the centre of the first such study of its kind, trying to find out what makes people happy.

“Now, more than 70 years on, we want to ask the people of Bolton the same questions and carry out the same survey.”

In 1938 a poster was published in The Bolton Evening News, asking people to answer the question “What is Happiness”.

A total of 226 letters were sent in and the people who responded were then asked to compile the happiness index by ranking in order of importance, 1-10 — one being the most important — on topics ranging from more beauty, to more security and more religion.

They were also asked a number of questions, including how often they would describe themselves as really happy, if they were happier in or away from Bolton and whether luck had anything to do with happiness.

Professor Carson said: “This survey was done pre-welfare state so security was important to happiness, there were still the remnants of the old workhouses.

“Now we want to know what makes people happy in 2014.

“We live in a culture where people are obsessed with celebrities and money, but we know that winning the lottery does not make you happy, we know the happiness index in nations doesn’t necessarily rise with increase in wealth.”

Ms McHugh is asking people aged 16 and over to complete the survey available at The Bolton News office and Bolton Central Library or online.

The completed survey can be returned to The Bolton News office and left in a special box.

One lucky person, drawn at random, will win £50 of Crompton Place Shopping Centre vouchers.

Ms McHugh said: “We want to interest all age ranges and hope to get responses from a range of educational backgrounds and occupations.

“The questions asked are essentially the same, but the wording has been slightly changed to appeal to people today. We will be publishing the findings and highlighting them at the Bolton Health Mela and Manchester History Festival.

“We will also share the findings with the local health trust who are interested in the wellbeing of people.”

The results could also be used to set up an educational project in schools about happiness and well-being.

To take part in the competition return your survey by Saturday, February 28.

Did you, or anyone you know, fill out the original survey? Get in touch by calling 01204 537275.

LETTERS sent in response to the 1938 survey included:

  • “I would like a little home, not many possessions... congenial and satisfying companionship, the availability of good music and books.”
  • “My friends frequently remarked that ‘I was the happiest down Brackley Pub’
  • “Happiness is having love, courage, doing your work with a smile. Helping and loving your neighbour. Serving God in thought, word and deed.”
  • “When I come home from the pit and see my kiddies and wife, I am happy”
  • “Happiness is something you must work for and is not got easily. Happiness is having the feel of life in your bones,”

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