THE Bolton News and the University of Bolton are carrying out a social experiment to find out what makes people happy.
The first survey of its kind in the UK was carried out in the borough in 1938 as part of the groundbreaking Mass Observation Project.
Now, more than 75 years later, the people of Bolton are again being asked what makes them happy.
The Bolton News is running a week-long series of features on the theme of happiness.
Today, leading academic in psychology John Haworth, visiting professor in well-being at the University of Bolton explains what is happiness.
Happiness is often considered to be a state of well-being characterised by positive or pleasant emotion, including contentment and joy, and satisfaction with life.
It is difficult to give a precise definition of happiness, and sometimes happiness is distinguished from satisfaction with life.
But while individuals may have different views on what happiness means to them, people around the world find it possible to answer the question: “Taken all together, how would you say things are these days — would you say you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?”
Self-appraisal of happiness would seem to be fundamental to the human condition.
Currently in the UK, at the behest of the UK Government, the Office of National Statistics (ONS, ons.gov.uk) is developing new measures of national well-being.
The aim is that these new measures will cover the quality of life of people in the UK, environmental and sustainability issues, as well as the economic performance of the country. The ONS has added four questions to its annual Integrated Household Survey.
Smaller surveys addressing other aspects of well-being, including enjoyment, have been conducted.
There is now increasing concern that Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is a misleading measure of national success, and that countries should act together to embrace new measures, including well-being.
There is recognition that money is crucial for happiness and well-being, but that beyond a certain level increase in income is not a guarantee of increase in happiness, and that increasing inequality is detrimental to well-being in society.
In the UK, the New Economics Foundation (neweconomics.org) considers that sustainable well-being should be at the forefront of government policy.
Of course, well-being is complex and multifaceted, and it can also be viewed as a process, something we do together, and as sense making.
The influential American psychologist, Martin Seligman, argues that while happiness is a part of well-being, happiness alone does not give life meaning.
He considers that central to enhanced well-being is the ability to flourish.
He proposes that positive emotion, including happiness and satisfaction, along with engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment, constitute the permanent building blocks for a life of profound fulfilment.
Positive emotion also includes enjoyment, which has been distinguished from pleasure.
Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi note that “pleasure is the good feeling that comes from satisfying homeostatic needs such as hunger, sex and bodily comfort”.
Enjoyment, on the other hand, refers to the good feelings people experience when they break through the limits of homeostasis — when they do something that stretches them beyond what they were — in an athletic event, an artistic performance, a good deed, a stimulating conversation.
Enjoyment, rather than pleasure, is what leads to personal growth and long-term happiness.
Research in the UK has shown that the experience of high enjoyment can come from both work and leisure. It can be associated with high challenges when met with equal skill, termed “flow”, but it can also come from low challenge activities.
While important research has been done into enjoyment, its role in well-being is currently relatively neglected, even though it could play a crucial part, alongside the need to decrease inequality, and increase opportunities in education, work, and leisure.
Top tips to put you on the path to good mental well-being
ALL this week we will be providing a tip a day to increase your happiness.
The tips are based on the Five a Day campaign, which arose from the Foresight Report, and are ways of ensuring good mental wellbeing.
- Today’s tip is: be active. There is truth in the old saying, “A healthy mind in a healthy body”. Exercise has numerous physical and mental benefits and can even help people recovery from moderate depression.
- People who sign up for sponsored walks, bike rides and other physically challenging activities are not only raising money for charitable causes, but also giving themselves a target to work on their own physical fitness and wellbeing.
There are simpler things to do. Walking is the most portable and cheapest form of exercise available to us.
- Be a bit more active in your daily life.
- Walk to the shops rather than taking the car.
- Get off the bus at a stop before your normal stop.
- Use the stairs at work and not the lift.
- Do a physical activity with a friend or a colleague.
- Go for a walk with a colleague at lunchtime.
- Plan a walk with family or friends for a weekend.