We recently commissioned a study looking at the control that people feel over various aspects of their life, and how this impacts on their overall happiness: the Sunny Life Control Index. In the first of a series of articles informed by our research, we’re tackling some of the topics that participants noted as important to their overall feeling of happiness. Today, we’re taking on work, and more specifically, what we get out of it – money. Is money the key to happiness?
We spend a lot of time at work. Working 40 hours a week, 47 weeks a year, give or take, adds up to about 90,000 hours – the equivalent of more than 10 years over a lifetime. That’s 22% of the time you’re of “working age”, and around 1/8 of the average person’s lifespan!
When you spend so much time doing something, it’s important you feel as though you’re getting some value in exchange for the hours you’re putting in. Knowing you’re adding value in some way is key to happiness for many people. But how do we measure value?
For many of us, the value we get from going to work all those days, weeks and years is a financial one. Sure, there are other factors to take into account, like the job itself, prospects for promotion, and the sector your work in, but you’d be hard pushed to find someone who would go to work just for the fun of it if they weren’t being paid!
In fact, there is a direct correlation between how much you earn and how happy you are in life overall. After all, earning more means you can take care of your everyday living costs comfortably, have a bit left over to enjoy the finer things in life, and be able to handle most of life’s inevitable curveballs without too much fuss or strain. What more could you want?
Well, quite a bit, as it happens. Our study shows that the point at which your income makes you happier appears to peak when you make around £50 – £70k a year*. Beyond that, while the extra money is obviously still a very nice thing to have, the effect it has on your happiness overall is less significant, meaning money isn’t the only key to happiness.
So where does that leave the majority of us for whom this kind of money is just a pipe dream? The average salary in the UK is around £26,000 a year (just half of what you apparently need to achieve “peak happiness”) and since around 65% of people in the £20-£30k income bracket describe themselves as happy with their lives overall, it’s fair to say that there must be way more to life than money and work. We think that life isn’t so much about what you have, but what you do with it. So, where else in life can you find happiness when money has done all it can?
Having children or otherwise doesn’t seem to affect people’s overall satisfaction with life, with 60% of those who have children, and the same proportion of those who don’t, saying they’re happy with their lives overall.
But, there’s no doubt that feeling like you’re in control of your family life, and you have a stable network around you, is key to happiness in the broader sense. Only 22% of people we surveyed were happy despite feeling a very low sense of control over their family lives, vs. 81% who felt they were totally in control.
Actively spending time with family is one of the biggest contributors to people’s happiness overall, but that doesn’t necessarily mean spending a fortune on family days out. Simply doing things together is enough for many people, whether that’s a family walk, socialising together, or banding together to tackle a household project like making a special meal or defeating a garden wilderness. The more quality time you spend with your family, the happier you’re likely to be**.
Regular mate-dates with your friends
Spending time with your friends in the evenings and weekends, according to our research, is a sure fire way to cheer yourself up if work is getting you down – and no surprise, since our friends are kind of the family we choose for ourselves.
68% of people who get out for a meal or drinks with their friends at least once a month say they’re happy with their lives overall. However, it doesn’t seem to be what you do with your friends so much as just spending time with them that makes a difference, which is great news for those of us with budgets to bear in mind.
A weekly “mate date” of some sort, whether it’s enjoying a meal together or getting your families together for a day of fun, seems to be the key to happiness in your friendships, which in turn have a huge effect on how happy you are overall. So give that old school pal a buzz and get together for a chinwag – it’ll perk you right up!
Indulge in a little “me” time
As cliché as it sounds, setting aside some “me” time in your day is a great way to de-stress and can be key to happiness overall.
It’s a scientific fact that exercise releases endorphins (happy hormones), and we speak from experience when we say there aren’t many things as therapeutic as setting the world to rights as you go a few rounds with a punchbag or pound the streets running off the day’s woes. Whether it’s hitting the gym or an exercise class, going to Bootcamp or just getting outdoors for a walk, getting regular (at least weekly) exercise means you’re more likely to feel laid back about life. With less than half of frequent exercisers reporting to feel stressed or worried about the future regularly and more likely to enjoy just going with the flow.
A fitness regime can be a lot to commit to, though, so simply making time to spend on the things you enjoy. This could be keeping up a hobby, getting stuck into a good book, or diverting your attention into a craft or cooking project are also great ways to inject a bit of positivity into your day.
It probably seems obvious, since they’re the person you’ve chosen to date, or even spend the rest of your life with, but your partner is a big contributor to how happy people are in life overall. Of course, it’s not healthy to pin all your hopes of happiness on one person, but, at risk of sounding a bit mushy, you’ve picked them to be part of your life for a reason, so make sure you recognise the value they add!
Much the same as with your friends and family, the happiness you get from your partner is all about the quality time you spend with them. Whether it’s going on dates, hanging out with mutual friends, or just enjoying one another’s company at home, if being with them doesn’t give you a mood boost, then we don’t know what will!
The study found that the longer people are in a relationship, the happier they tend to become, with 78% of couples from the older generation saying they’re happy with life overall. People in relatively new relationships also enjoy higher than average overall happiness (72%), which is no doubt down to the honeymoon effect and excitement that comes with getting to know someone new. And isn’t it nice to know it’ll only get better with time?
Like so many things, finding happiness in life is all about balance. There’s no reason for one aspect of your life to rule them all, and evidently, there’s more to life than what you can achieve materially. Money is, of course, an essential part of the journey, but it’s not everything. It’s easy to forget that, and important to remember.
*79% of those surveyed as part of the Sunny Life Control index who earn £50-£70k per year agreed that overall, they were happy with their lives at present. This is in contrast to the 61% who agreed they were happy but earned less than £50k a year.
** 69% of those surveyed as part of the Sunny Life Control index who said they did family activities at least once a week said they were happy with their lives overall, vs. 47% who claim never to spend any time on family activities.